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Central Asia in Focus: October 4, 2022

Kazakhstan urged to vote for UN discussion on China’s abuses, a good time for Kyrgyz-Uzbek cooperation, and more.

An image of Sairagul Sauytbay
KAZAKHSTAN — After fleeing China, ethnic Kazakh Sairagul Sauytbay works to expose China’s “Reeducation Camps”in Xinjiang region where was sent to work as a teacher. She escaped in 2018 and began recounting shocking stories of torture and oppression at the camp.

What’s Happening in the Region

Kazakhstan Urged to Vote for UN Discussion on China’s Abuses

Kazakh authorities have been walking a tightrope since information about China’s abuse of Muslims in the western Xinjiang Autonomous Uyghur Region started trickling out.

Reports say more than one million Muslims, mostly Uyghurs but tens of thousands of ethnic Kazakhs as well, are in internment camps that Chinese authorities euphemistically call “re-education” centers, where there are widespread allegations of torture, rape, and disappearances.

The State Department calls Beijing’s crackdown a genocide, but some also say it is a cultural genocide, pointing to the closure or destruction of many mosques, restrictions on practicing Islam or wearing traditional clothing, and for men, having a beard, and authorities’ insistence that locals adopt Chinese customs.

Kazakhstan and China share a 1,100-mile border and China is a major investor and trade partner for Kazakhstan.

Ethnic Kazakhs from China were among the first to tell the world of the horrors Xinjiang’s Muslims were facing.

Kazakhstan is currently a member of the UN Human Rights Council, and in early October the Council will vote on a procedural motion proposing a debate on China’s brutal campaign in Xinjiang.

The debate would be about the report then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet published on August 31 that details abuses in Xinjiang that could represent crimes against humanity.

China delayed the publication of the report and is now trying to block debate on it.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on Kazakhstan “to help clear the way for open debate on this key human rights issue.”

Why It’s Important: It will not be so easy for Kazakhstan to heed HRW’s call, nor is Kazakhstan likely to do so.

Not only is China a neighbor, leading investor, and major trade partner, Beijing is an increasingly important political ally.

Kazakhstan’s relations with northern neighbor Russia continue to deteriorate due to Kazakhstan’s clear public disapproval of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Kazakhstan in September, Xi’s first foreign visit since the pandemic started, was a welcome show of support for Kazakhstan amid its testy ties with the Kremlin.

A Good Time for Kyrgyz-Uzbek Cooperation

Uzbekistan’s Prime Minister Abdullo Aripov made an official visit to Kyrgyzstan on September 26, and while improvements in Kyrgyz-Uzbek ties are generally welcome, the timing is a good example for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Kyrgyz-Uzbek ties for the first 25 years after 1991 independence ranged from poor to horrible.

There were often arguments and sometimes clashes between residents and border guards along the Kyrgyz-Uzbek frontier and there were occasional shootings, injuries, and some fatalities.

In the summer of 2000, Uzbekistan put landmines along areas of its poorly marked borders with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to prevent Islamic militants from coming through the Kyrgyz and Tajik mountains into Uzbekistan.

Dozens of people across the border from Uzbekistan were killed by these landmines while herding sheep or gathering firewood.

Even when the threat of militants was gone, Uzbek authorities declined to remove the mines or hand over maps of mined areas to Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan.

After Shavkat Mirziyoev became Uzbekistan’s president in 2016, Kyrgyz-Uzbek ties, and Tajik-Uzbek ties, improved significantly.

The landmines have been removed and the border crossings that once were often closed, are now open and more crossings have been added.

In Bishkek on September 26, Prime Minister Aripov and the head of Kyrgyzstan’s security service chief, Kamchybek Tashiev, who also oversees the country’s border guard service, signed a protocol on completing border demarcation talks by the end of this year.

Less than 20 miles of the 860-mile Kyrgyz-Uzbek border still needs to be demarcated, down from some 200 disputed miles when Mirziyoev became Uzbekistan’s president.

Why It’s Important: The Kyrgyz-Uzbek progress in agreeing on their border and accompanying drastic reduction in border violence, is a great example for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The Kyrgyz-Tajik border is now the most dangerous frontier in Central Asia. The countries fought brief wars there in 2021 and again in September 2022.

Nearly 200 people have been killed in those two conflicts.

Hopefully, Aripov’s recent visit will remind the Kyrgyz and Tajik governments that a resolution to border disputes is possible.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

The latest Majlis podcast brought together residents of the capitals of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan to discuss how the recent arrival of Russian citizens into their countries is affecting the lives of Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Uzbek citizens.

This week’s guests are:

What I’m Following

Tajik Anniversaries

Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon has three anniversaries approaching and we might get some insight into how long he intends to remain in office.

On October 5, Rahmon turns 70 years old. November 6 will be the 28th anniversary of Rahmon being elected president the first time, and November 20 will be the 30th anniversary of Rahmon being named chairman of the Supreme Soviet, the highest post in Tajikistan at that time.

OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meetings

The OSCE’s Human Dimension Implementation Meetings that started in Warsaw on September 26 continues through October 7.

There have already been several side events dealing with corruption and kleptocracy in Central Asia, problems with media freedom there, and other topics and more panels on Central Asia are coming in the second week of the conference.

Fact of the Week

Tajik President Rahmon is the seventh longest serving, non-royal leader in the world, trailing behind the leaders of Brunei, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Cambodia, Uganda, and Eritrea.

Thanks for Reading

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