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Central Asia in Focus: Central Asian Leaders Visit Berlin

In this week’s edition: Central Asian leaders visit Berlin, Kyrgyz Courts are called out for leniency on rapists, Kazakh Police raid Tajik migrant laborers, and more.

President of Kazakhstan Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (L) was met in Berlin by Federal Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz (R).
GERMANY — President of Kazakhstan Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev was met in Berlin by Federal Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz on Sept. 29, 2023.

In the Region

Central Asian Leaders Visit Berlin

The presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and the former president of Turkmenistan were in Berlin on September 29 for a summit with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Topping the agenda at the summit were connectivity between Europe and Central Asia, energy resources and security, and climate change.

Deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars were signed on the sidelines of the Berlin summit and there was a surprising statement on construction of the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline.

The European Union (EU) and Central Asia have been working to expand the so-called Middle Corridor trade route since Russia launched its full-scale war in Ukraine.

The Middle Corridor connects Europe and Central Asia via the Caspian Sea and Caucasus, avoiding Russian territory.

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov attended the summit instead of his son, President Serdar Berdymukhammedov. The elder Berdymukhammedov’s announced Turkmenistan was ready to send “(natural) gas supplies to Europe by means of building the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline (TCP).”

The TCP project dates back to the mid-1990s, but its realization now could bring up to 30 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas to Europe.

The EU was purchasing between 150-160 bcm of Russian gas annually but drastically cut those imports, and is looking for alternative suppliers.

For decades Turkmenistan has been evasive about realizing the project.

The senior Berdymukhammedov’s mention that his country is now prepared to ship gas via the TCP is the clearest statement in years about Turkmenistan’s willingness to see the pipeline built.

Additionally, Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev invited German companies to participate in Kazakh infrastructure projects such as Kazakhstan’s Caspian ports at Aqtau and Kuryk. Kazakhstan’s Caspian ports are key links to Azerbaijan and its transportation network through the Caucasus.

Kazakhstan also secured German investment for mining rare earth minerals used for modern technological products ranging from computers to automobiles.

German companies also arranged a deal for a chemical plant in Kazakhstan and to build a factory to produce construction material in Kyrgyzstan.

Both Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon made pitches for German companies to invest in mining and renewable energy projects in his Tajikistan.

Why It’s Important: The West is advancing its trade and energy relations with Central Asia. It is also focused on assisting Central Asia in efforts to climate change.

This Berlin summit came 10 days after the five Central Asian presidents met with U.S. President Joe Biden in New York.

Agreements on developing transportation networks, mining, energy resources, as well as pledges to cooperate on energy security and alleviate the effects of climate change were also reached in New York.

Western interest in resource-rich Central Asia is now shifting from security to trade at a time when Central Asia is seeking new economic partners as traditional partner Russia’s attention is focused on Ukraine.

Kyrgyz Courts Called Out for Leniency on Rapists

Last week Central Asian in Focus reported on an ex-husband’s savage attack on his former wife in Kyrgyzstan.

On September 27, a court sentenced the attacker, Azamat Estebesov, to eight years in prison, but for raping a different ex-wife.

There were also reports that Asel Nogoybaeva, the victim of Estebesov’s most recent attack, had filed rape complaints with police twice before.

The first time, Nogoybaeva dropped the charges due to pressure from her former spouse’s family.

The second time, this last April, a court found Estebesov guilty and sentenced him to five years in prison. That sentence was changed to three years’ probation.

The case has been widely discussed in Kyrgyzstan since news broke of the most recent attack.

On September 28, parliamentary deputy Janar Akaev told a parliamentary session that in the last 18 months, 88 rape suspects were freed on probation, including some accused of sexually abusing teenagers and children.

After the attack on Nogoybaeva, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement that said, “This case shows, yet again, that authorities’ failure to act puts women at risk of injury or even death.”

HRW also said Nogoybaeva’s family complained to police, “providing photographic documentation of her ex-husband’s assaults.”

“[P]olice said repeatedly that they would not act unless he killed her – a response familiar to women experiencing domestic violence in Kyrgyzstan,” according to the HRW statement.

Why It’s Important: For many years, authorities have repeatedly failed to enforce the laws on domestic and gender-based violence.

On September 21, two members of parliament, both women, called on the Interior Ministry to enforce laws on domestic violence.

MP Nilufar Alimjanova, asked, “Why do such cases come under control only when our women suffer or die?”

Similar questions have been asked for too many years in Kyrgyzstan and police and the court system continues to fail victims of domestic or gender violence.

It’s time for authorities to take greater action to prevent domestic violence in the country.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

In this week’s Majlis podcast we look at the Kazakh Finance Ministry’s recent publication of a list of 240 organizations and individuals receiving foreign funding.

The move resembles actions taken by Russia’s government years ago that ultimately led to “foreign agent” laws that closed down many civil society groups, rights organizations, and independent media.

What is the reaction to the Kazakh Finance Ministry’s publication of this list?

This week’s guests are:

What I’m Following

Tajik Leader Unpopular in Germany

Many Tajik citizens have been forced to flee the country, among them members of opposition parties, civil society activists, and journalists from now closed independent media outlets.

Some turned out in Berlin on September 29 to protest Tajik President Emomali Rahmon’s visit (see above).

An activist from the banned Tajik opposition Group 24 threw eggs at Rahmon’s car as it passed.

A photograph of Rahmon exiting the vehicle later shows egg on his window.

Kazakh Police Detain Tajik Migrant Laborers

Tajik migrant laborers in Kazakhstan are telling RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Ozodi, that Kazakh police are increasingly detaining migrant laborers.

One Tajik migrant told Ozodi that when migrants working at bazaars see the police coming, they hide, some leaving all their wares behind them.

There are only 10,500 Tajik migrant laborers in Kazakhstan.

They earn less than they would if they went to Russia to work, but some said they feel more comfortable being in another Central Asian country than in Russia.

Tajik migrant laborers are regularly targeted in raids in Russia, where in addition to possibly being detained or deported, they risk being pressured into joining the Russian military and sent to Ukraine.

Fact of the Week

Authorities in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek have extended a prohibition on public meetings or rallies in the city center until the end of this year.

The ban was originally imposed in March 2022 and the latest extension was due to expire at the end of September.

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 X (formerly 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,