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Central Asia in Focus: August 2, 2022

Screenshot of Ramzi and Oraz Vazirbekovs
Screenshot of Ramzi and Oraz Vazirbekovs from Behdosh TV YouTube channel. July 31, 2022.

What’s Happening in the Region

Tajik Government’s Repression of Pamiris Continues

The Tajik government’s campaign against the Pamiri people of the eastern Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) continues unabated.

Pamiri activists and Russian citizens Oraz and Ramzi Vazirbekov disappeared at Moscow’s Domodedevo Airport, where they had just arrived from the Russian city Yekaterinburg on July 29.

The two have publicly criticized the Tajik government’s security operation in GBAO in May and June that left 16 people dead according to official statistics, although Pamiri groups say the true figure is several times higher.

On July 30, a video posted on YouTube by someone calling themselves Bekhdosht TV showed the Vazirbekovs in the Tajik capital Dushanbe.

Oraz said in the July 30 video that he and Ramzi returned to Dushanbe voluntarily to help with the investigation into violence in GBAO.

However, in an earlier YouTube video Oraz posted on February 11, he said if he ever was seen in Tajikistan, it was because he had been forcibly brought there.

Five other Pamiris who criticized the Tajik authorities, including mixed martial arts fighter Choshanbe Chorshanbiev and local Pamiri leader Amriddin Alovatshoev, went missing in Russia earlier this year and suddenly reappeared in Tajikistan.

Alovatshoev was convicted of five charges, including kidnapping and organizing a criminal organization, and sentenced to 18 years in prison at a trial that lasted a few hours. Chorshanbiev was convicted of inciting ethnic, racial, or religious hatred, and calling for the violent overthrow of the constitutional order and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Meanwhile, GBAO schools funded by the Ismaili Pamiris’ spiritual leader, the Agha Khan, are facing an uncertain future.

The Agha Khan Development Network (AKDN) has funded construction of infrastructure projects in GBAO, including schools.

Pamiri groups are warning that Tajik authorities are reviewing the licenses of high schools, elementary schools, and kindergartens connected to the University of Central Asia, and AKDN-funded college in the GBAO capital Khorugh.

AKDN-funded summer camps for schoolchildren were canceled.

Why It’s Important: Tajik authorities are seeking out and rounding up anyone who challenges the government narrative of events in Tajikistan. So far, the international community has not publicly called for punishing the Tajik government for its actions.

Other Central Asian governments will be taking note of the impunity with which Tajik authorities are neutralizing any potential opponent or critic.

Questions About the Impartiality of the Karakalpakstan Investigation

The work of the investigative commission tasked with looking into the causes of the violence in Uzbekistan’s western Karakalpakstan Republic is already being questioned by Karakalpaks abroad.

Officially, 21 people were killed, 243 injured, and more than 500 people were arrested during the unrest that erupted in Karakalpakstan on July 1 over plans to change the constitution and remove the region’s sovereign status and right to secede from Uzbekistan.

Bobur Bekmurodov, a member of Uzbekistan’s parliament, and Golnaz Mamarasulova, a philologist, are both on the investigative commission, and have been posting on Twitter about the investigation.

The 14-member commission purports to be independent, and Bekmurodov and Mamarasulova stress the impartiality of the commission, but it is led by the official ombudsman, Feruza Eshmatova and most members come from the two houses of Uzbekistan’s parliament.

This was pointed out by some of the Karakalpaks who responded to Bekmurodov’s tweets, but Bekmurodov noted longtime Uzbek activist and former political prisoner Azam Farmonov was part of the commission.

There were also questions for Bekmurodov and Mamarasulova about the new furniture in the room where suspects were being questioned by the commission, whether there were qualified psychologists present, and why anyone in Karakalpakstan would trust officials sent from Tashkent.

Bekmurodov and Mamarasulova hung in there, responding to some of the many comments they received, and Bekmurodov wrote, “If you have any suggestions, please advise.”

Why It’s Important: There are two important things here.

First, Uzbek authorities are making an attempt, in English, to show some transparency by having Bekmurodov and Mamarasulova tweet and post photographs about the investigation.

Mamarasulova said the “doors are always open” to people in Karakalpakstan who wish to tell their version of events.

Second, the criticisms in the Twitter responses of the Karakalpaks show the concerns and doubts about the violence on July 1 will not be allayed by this investigation as some people do not consider this investigation to be independent or impartial.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

On the latest Majlis podcast we used the July 25-26 international conference that Uzbekistan hosted on Afghanistan to look at how the Central Asian states have been dealing with the Taliban since the militant group returned to power in August last year.

This week’s guests are:

What I’m Following

Good News for Pamir Glaciers

A team of Swiss researchers working in Tajikistan’s section of the Pamir Mountains has found that the surface area of glaciers there is stable and in some cases is even increasing.

The group from the Swiss Research Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape said more research is needed and called the situation with glaciers in Pamirs an “anomaly,” but with glaciers retreating in most parts of the world as climate change continues, the anomaly in the Pamir Mountains is a rare piece of good environmental news.

So Hot

At lower altitudes of Central Asia, the high temperatures are causing all sorts of problems.

On July 27, as Uzbekistan entered the 10th straight day of temperatures averaging more than 109 Fahrenheit (43 Celsius), Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev ordered extra measures for 30 days to save this year’s cotton crop.

In Turkmenistan’s eastern Mary Province, there were reports of cattle dying as the mercury hit 122 Fahrenheit (50 Celsius).

Temperatures in parts of Tajikistan in the middle of July were above 110 Fahrenheit (43.3 Celsius).

Food imports in Central Asia have already been affected by Russia’s war in Ukraine, notably Russian grain and cooking oil exports to Central Asia. A poor domestic harvest would create serious problems for Central Asian countries this winter.

Fact of the Week

The chairman of Tajikistan’s Supreme Court, Shermukhammad Shohiyon, said in July that Tajik courts handed down guilty verdicts in 5,508 cases during the first six months of 2022. There was not even one acquittal.

Thanks for Reading

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See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.