Search RFE/RL

Central Asia In Focus: Breadline Beatings In Turkmenistan

In this week’s edition, breadline beatings in Turkmenistan, a victory for maternal names in Kyrgyzstan, the upcoming Uzbek election, and more.

People wait in a queue in front of a state grocery store to buy cooking oil in Turkmenistan. (RFE/RL).
People wait in a queue in front of a state grocery store to buy cooking oil in Turkmenistan. (RFE/RL).

In the Region

The Breadline Beatings in Turkmenistan

As preparations were underway to open Turkmenistan’s new five-billion-dollar “smart city,” some 18 miles away in Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat, a man was beaten in a dispute over bread.

RFE/RL’s Turkmen service, known as Azatlyk, reported on the assault.

Around 5:40 am on June 24, people were lining up to buy bread from a store that is supposed to sell bread at the state-subsidized price of one manat (about $0.28).

The limit is three loaves per person.

On that day, the storekeeper was selling bread for 1.5 manats and he had only about 40 loaves.

In plain view of those in line, the vendor sold one customer what the report described as “much more bread” than the three-loaf limit.

Bread-sellers at Turkmen state stores have new power in these days of rationing.

People waiting in line kept quiet to avoid doing anything that might anger the bread-seller and endanger their chances of procuring bread.

The crowd’s silence did not pay off.

Shortly after selling the one customer all those loaves, the storekeeper announced all the bread was gone and started to close up shop.

At that point, a young man in the line grabbed the vendor by the collar and hit him in the face a couple of times.

There was no information about whether the young man was detained.

The assault in Ashgabat was not unique.

On June 4, a female employee at a state store in the Caspian coastal town of Turkmenbashi was attacked when the ration-packages ran out.

On June 4, local residents were informed the ration packages they should have received in February would finally arrive on June 5.

Hundreds of people were waiting when the store opened in the morning.

When the woman running the store told the people the packages had not arrived, some women in the crowd attacked the saleswoman.

Some people broke the store windows.

Police arrived later. They intended to view footage from local surveillance cameras, but reportedly, the cameras were out of order.

Why It’s Important: Turkmen citizens are aware that authorities deal severely with public acts of defiance or violence and punishment can be harsh.

But the economic crisis in Turkmenistan is in its eighth year.

Many low-income families in Turkmenistan depend on these packages of basic goods such as flour and cooking oil, and on state-subsidized bread.

How much food could the government have bought with the $5 billion being spent on a vanity city?

Not long ago it was scuffles between people waiting in line, but now anger is turning on those selling or distributing state-subsidized goods.

How much longer will it be before that anger is directed toward the officials wasting money on useless projects while the population goes hungry?

A Victory for the Maternal Name in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz feminist activist and children’s book author Altyn Kapalova has finally won her court case seeking permission for children to use their maternal name.

Kapalova caused an uproar in Kyrgyzstan when she registered new birth certificates for her three children with authorities using her matronymic, instead of the traditional patronymic, in December 2020.

A patronymic is a middle name that derives from the first name of the child’s father, so, in the case of a son, Viktor Ivanich, Viktor son of Ivan, or Yelena, Ivanova, Yelena, daughter of Ivan.

It’s the same for a matronymic, only it is the mother’s first name.

Kapalova registered her son as Daniyar “Altynovich” Kapalov and daughters as “Altynova” Kapalova, using her first name.

In February 2021, the Department of Population and Civil Status Registration filed a lawsuit against Kapalova.”

Kapalova argued her children shouldn’t have to use their patronymic since a court had deprived the fathers of her two oldest daughters of their parental rights and the fathers had never paid alimony.

Kapalova wrote on Facebook, “I did not break the law, I broke the patriarchal foundations.”

Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court ruled against Kapalova’s move to change the patronymic to a matronymic in April 2021, but she appealed the ruling in February 2023.

On July 2, Kapalova wrote on Facebook that the Judicial Collegium of the Constitutional Court had ruled the Cabinet of Ministers should make the appropriate amendments for use of matronymic.

However, a person cannot make the decision to use their matronymic until they are 16 years old.

Why It’s Important: The rights situation in Kyrgyzstan has been deteriorating since Sadyr Japarov took over as president at the end of 2020.

There is much attention recently on the Kyrgyz parliament’s moves to greatly restrict the activities of foreign-funded NGOs and media outlets. This has distracted attention from other problems.

Women’s rights were under pressure for years, but since Japarov came to power the voices of conservative elements in society are much louder.

There has been public criticism of women dressing in western clothing, or clothing some people deem to be too revealing.

Feminist groups and organizations advocating equal rights for women are regularly harassed when they hold public gatherings.

People like the group Kyrk Choro, who claim to represent traditional Kyrgyz values, show up to interfere with rallies.

On June 12, parliament passed a resolution recommending women younger than 22 should not be allowed to travel abroad unless they have a note from their parents.

Kapalova’s court victory in a country where the patriarchal system is becoming more dominant is therefore notable.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at what has happened in the year since violence broke out in Uzbekistan’s western Karakalpakstan Republic July 1-2, 2022.

Officially, 21 people were killed in the violence.

Most of the deaths were caused by projectiles fired by police.

A government investigation into how peaceful protests turned violent has so far resulted only in protesters being charged.

This week’s guests are:

What I’m Following

Aga Khan Foundation Loses GBAO Lyceum

The Tajik government has reportedly canceled the license of the Aga Khan Lyceum in Khorugh, the capital of eastern Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO).

The last day for the lyceum was June 30.

Most people in GBAO are Ismaili Muslims, Shiites whose spiritual leader is the Aga Khan.

Since violence in GBAO in May 2022, Tajik authorities have been cracking down on Pamiris and their unique culture.

Tajikistan’s government already nationalized the Aga Khan-funded Serena Hotel in Khorugh earlier this year and seized the Khorugh park built by the Aga Khan Development Network last summer.

New Uzbekistan Holds an Old Presidential Election

The snap presidential election that will see incumbent Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev elected for a fresh seven-year term is set for July 9.

The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights released an interim report on June 26 that aptly summed up the situation: “The political landscape has remained unchanged, and none of the parliamentary political parties stand in open opposition to the president’s policies and agenda.”

I’ll still be watching election results to see if there is anything new, though that seems doubtful.

Fact of the Week

The Afghanistan Railway Authority reported trains carrying some 12,300 metric tons of goods, mostly fuel, crossed from Uzbekistan into Afghanistan on July 1.

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,