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Central Asia In Focus: Uzbek President’s Daughter Takes Senior Post

UZBEKISTAN — Saida Mirziyoeva in a 2022 photo.

In this week’s edition: Uzbek President’s daughter takes senior post, Central Asia pays more attention to water, Kazakhstan’s nuclear power plant plans, and more.

In the Region

There is a new name in Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev’s presidential administration – his daughter Saida Mirziyoeva.

Presidential Press Secretary Sherzod Asadov announced new government appointments on August 25. The president’s 38-year-old daughter is now head of the presidential administration.

The move had been expected after Sardor Umurzakov was relieved as head of the presidential administration earlier in August.

Another familiar name also appeared on the new line-up of officials.

Komil Allamjonov was announced as the head of the presidential administration’s Department for Information Policies.

Allamjonov and Mirzioyeva previously worked together as heads of the Agency for Information and Mass Communications and later in the presidential administration’s Fund for Mass Media.

According to RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Ozodlik, that makes Mirziyoeva and Allamjonov the number two and three people in the presidential administration, respectively, behind the president himself.

President Mirziyoev was elected to a third term in office on July 9 after amendments to the constitution were passed in a national referendum on April 30.

Among the amendments was one which changed the presidential term from five to seven years, which allowed Mirziyoev to run for two more terms.

He was first elected president in December 2016, and again in October 2021.

According to Uzbekistan’s Constitution, a president can only serve two terms in office, but the amendment extending the presidential term in office allowed Mirziyoev to run for two more terms.

Why It’s Important: President Mirziyoev has been talking about creating a new Uzbekistan but appointing his eldest daughter to be head of the administration is reminiscent of the previous Uzbek president and other Central Asian presidents.

Islam Karimov was Uzbekistan’s first president.

His daughter Gulnara occupied several diplomatic posts, including advisor to the Foreign Ministry, Uzbekistan’s Ambassador to Spain, and Uzbekistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon’s daughter Ozoda has been head of the presidential administration since 2016.

Former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s eldest daughter Darigha was a member of parliament and rose to be Speaker of Senate.

Such nepotism added to the unpopularity of Rahmon and Nazarbaev, the same as Gulnara Karimova’s appointment to official posts made her father less popular.

Saida’s recent promotion is likely to have the same detrimental effect on her father.

While some Central Asian presidents' daughters have risen to prominent posts, the examples of Darigha Nazarbaeva, Ozoda Rahmon, and even Gulnara Karimova show there are limits.

The entrenched patriarchal society of Central Asia makes it difficult for women to be truly considered for the presidency.

Perhaps because of the strong patriarchal society, the resentment against presidents' daughters occupying top posts seems to be deeper than when presidents' sons are given top positions.

Central Asia Paying More Attention to Water

As water becomes more scarce in Central Asia after three consecutive years of drought, its importance for the Central Asian states in increasing.

Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources said on August 11 that southern Kazakhstan’s Zhambyl Province has stopped receiving water from Kyrgyzstan’s Kirov reservoir.

Farmers in Zhambyl said they faced crop failures due to lack of water.

Kyrgyz officials responded that drought had left much of Kyrgyzstan without sufficient water and there simply was not enough water to release from reservoirs.

Kyrgyzstan has also been talking about building a series of new hydropower plants (HPP) and recently seems to have found Chinese companies to invest in the projects.

Kazakh media outlet Informburo wrote about Kyrgyzstan hydropower plant projects on August 25.

The headline “Kyrgyzstan is building several HPPs. What will happen with water in Kazakhstan?” summed up Kazakhstan’s view.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon visited Kazakhstan on August 25.

Water from Tajikistan also flows in the Syr-Darya, one of Central Asia’s big rivers that passes through Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.

During his meeting with the visiting Tajik president, Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev made a point of thanking Tajikistan for meeting its obligations to release water into the Syr-Darya.

Why It’s Important: Kyrgyzstan’s explanation of why it cannot give Kazakhstan water is reasonable, and Kazakh officials have not openly criticized Kyrgyzstan over the issue.

Eyebrows were raised however when on August 20, Kazakhstan slowed the process of allowing freight trucks from Kyrgyzstan to cross into Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan is the main transit route for trucks bringing cargo to or from Russia.

Trucks from Kyrgyzstan have encountered problems crossing the Kazakh border before, but some connected the timing of this bottleneck as Kazakh retaliation for not receiving water from Kyrgyzstan.

Usually 20 trucks cross every hour at the Ak Tilek border post, but after August 20 only six were crossing per day.

Kazakh President Toqaev denied the delays were punishment over water and ordered that whatever obstacles were causing the wait at the border be removed, but the lines on the Kyrgyz side of the border continue.

This is an early example of how the issue of water is likely to cause problems in Central Asia, not only for farmers, but for relations between the Central Asian governments.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at Kazakhstan’s plans to build its first nuclear power plant as many in the country still grapple with the country’s past as a testing site for the Soviet Union’s atomic bombs.

August 29 is the anniversary of the first test of an atomic bomb in Kazakhstan and 455 more tests were conducted there before the site closed in 1991.

Joining me to discuss Kazakhstan’s nuclear legacy as Kazakh officials move forward on construction of a nuclear power plant is Togzhan Kassenova, author of widely acclaimed book Atomic Steppe: How Kazakhstan Gave Up the Bomb.

What I'm Following

Tajikistan Doubles Price for Avoiding Military Service

The cost for those opting to avoid service in Tajikistan’s military is about to double.

Currently, those who do not wish to be conscripted into the military can pay the state 28,560 somoni (about $2,600), but it is set to increase to 51,000 somoni (about $4,650).

The average monthly wage in Tajikistan is about 1,900 somoni (about $170), while the minimum monthly wage is around 400 somoni ($36.50).

NGOs Fighting Internet Shutdowns in Kazakhstan

A group of Kazakh NGOs started a campaign against Internet shutdowns in Kazakhstan.

The NGOs are Media Net, the Rights Media Center, Civil Expertise, Wings of Freedom, Eurasian Digital Foundation, Digital Paradigm, and Internet Freedom Qazaqstan.

The NGOs are calling on the Kazakh government to remove legislation that allows authorities to block or slow access to the Internet.

Fact of the Week

The independent Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR) is marking its 30-year anniversary this week.

The KIBHR has been a vital organization in the fight for rights in Kazakhstan.

Its anniversary celebration in Almaty was attended by some of the leading figures involved in Central Asia, including the EU special representative for Central Asia, Tehri Hakala.

Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading Central Asia in Focus! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who may be interested.

Feel free to contact me on Twitter or by responding to this email, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia. See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.

Until next time,

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    Bruce Pannier

    Bruce Pannier authors RFE/RL's "Central Asia in Focus" newsletter and appears regularly on the RFE/RL's Majlis podcast.

About Central Asia in Focus

An authoritarian tide is sweeping through Central Asia, resulting in political repression and a stark retreat in civil liberties. Central Asia in Focus, a weekly newsletter, focuses on key events shaping the course of the region. Author Bruce Pannier shares personal insights informed by his three decades of experience covering Central Asia, and tells his readers what may come next.

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