Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Will Askar Akayev Become an Issue in the Upcoming U.S. Congressional Election?

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Ex-President Askar Akayev meeting with President Bush at the White House in 2002

NBC news investigative reporters apparently got their hands on leaked information from the FBI on the Askar Akayev investigation.
While the investigation has been public knowledge for some time
, this new report ties the Akayev family’s economic empire into criminal activity that may have also taken place on U.S. soil. It is, of course, questionable as to whether this would have made NBC news if it were not for the vicious political battles presently ongoing in Washington in connection with upcoming Congressional elections. For NBC and the U.S. public in general, the question is of course whether there the Defense Department, through Ganci airbase activities, might be implicated in any of Akayev’s criminal links through the money paid to companies owned by Akayev’s family.

While Nathan of Registan.net writes that he does not feel that the DOD can be held accountable for corruption in foreign governments, he does express concern over whether money funneled to the Akayevs from the DOD could have been used to undermine U.S. security interests in other ways. I think, however, that a different ethical question should also be raised about the DOD’s payments to companies owned by Akayev’s son and son-in-law. According to the NBC report, the Defense Department instructed U.S. companies bidding on the fueling contract for Ganci to use only the two companies associated with the Akayevs as fuel-supply sub-contractors because “these were the only registered companies to provide services.” The question in my mind is whether directing contractors to hire these sub-contractors is akin to a laundered bribe. How, for example, does this differ from the alleged payments made by U.S. oil companies to Kazakh officials through James Giffen? Are we looking at the beginning of a “Manas-gate,” and if so, how will Secretary Rumsfield be implicated? Looks like it could be more ammunition for the Democrats, as if anymore was needed.

The Tengiz Riots: What is at the Heart of the Tension between Turks and Kazakhs?

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Former Turkish President Turgut Ozal, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan

The riots between Kazakhs and Turks that took place in Tengiz a week ago last Friday have generated much discussion and interest around the world. Filipino authorities have expressed concern for their workers in Kazakhstan, and the Turkish embassy in Kazakhstan initially reacted to the event with a certain degree of outrage. Finally, Kazakh commentators have examined the event with an eye to what it says about their own country and its problems.

It is significant, however, that the event occurred between Kazakhs and Turks and that it is not the first such violence to erupt between the two groups in recent memory. The presence of such violence directed against Turks in Kazakhstan demonstrates the degree to which Turkey has fallen from grace in the region since the early 1990s.

In the early 1990s, under then president of Turkey Turgut Ozal, the Turkish presence in Kazakhstan was seen as a sign of friendship and common interest in a Turkic world that had suddenly expanded with the fall of the U.S.S.R. At that time, for example, the Turkish government sponsored a television station in Kazakhstan producing programs in Turkic languages after years of Russian linguistic dominance, and numerous other cultural exchange programs promoted the new found alliance between the two countries. While some people in Kazakhstan even in the early 1990s felt that Turks came to the region with too much arrogance, expecting to replace Russia as Central Asians’ “big brother,” Turkey was generally viewed positively and as a counterweight to dependence on Moscow. It was also at this time that the idea of the Baku-Tblisi-Cheyan pipeline first emerged.

With Ozal’s death, however, Turkey’s role in the region decreased. If Turkey began to show less political and cultural interest in Kazakhstan, it continued to be active economically. As a result, Kazakhs became increasingly cynical of their “Turkic brothers,” feeling as if they had only been interested in economic gains from the start. Furthermore, Turks in Kazakhstan (like many foreigner businessmen) generally behaved arrogantly towards local employees and local citizens throughout the 1990s.

Today, the situation is quickly changing as Kazakhstan’s economy continues to grow. Kazakhstanis now find it difficult to view the Turks as more advanced “big brothers” who deserve higher wages than local workers. Furthermore, many Kazakhs perceive of the Turks’ position in their country as facilitated by the United States. A recent article from a Kazakhstani website suggests, for example, that Turkey’s economic successes in Kazakhstan would not have been as significant “if not for the active lobbying and support of America.” While this may be an overstatement, the fact remains that many Kazakhs see the BTC pipeline, Turkey, and the United States as one united foreign interest that is in economic and political competition with Russia in their country. In this context, what could represent Kazakhs’ distrust of the BTC, Turkey, and the U.S. better than a riot against Turkish managers at a construction site in Tengiz?

Interestingly, this all comes at a time when Turkey is once again expressing increased political interest in Kazakhstan and Central Asia as a whole. It has been said that Turkey’s present prime minister Tayyip Erdogan is displaying an interest in Central Asia not seen since Ozal’s death. Furthermore, Erdogan’s interest in the region is viewed suspiciously by Moscow, especially given the threat that Russia sees in the establishment of the BTC pipeline. Such a trend also serves the interests of Kazakhstan in ensuring its independence from Russia and China, between which it is sandwiched. With Kazakhstan’s participation in the BTC pipeline and its recent announcement that it will adopt a Latin alphabet in favor of Cyrillic, it would seem that the leadership of Kazakhstan understands those advantages.

The question remains, however, if this most recent event could significantly detract from the trend of Turkey’s increased involvement in Kazakhstan. A “youtube” video of a Turkish television report (below) shows the drama with which the event is being portrayed to the Turkish public, while the comments by Turks and Kazakhs alike to the video show how much animosity has been built up on both sides.

In general, it would seem that the Tengiz riots should be seen as a warning sign to Turkey that it cannot take its relationship with Kazakhstan and the Kazakhs for granted. Interestingly, at least one recent editorial in the Turkish newspaper Zaman reflects an empathetic understanding of the animosity with which Kazakhs have begun to view the Turks. Turkey will need to reflect on this more if the country is to retain its favored economic status with Kazakhstan. More specifically, Turkey likely needs to reconsider its role as “big brother” in the Turkic world and engage countries like Kazakhstan as equals.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Big Week in Central Asian News: Three Events Will Demonstrate the Variety in the Region's Political Development

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Next week will be a big week in news for Central Asia. Three very different events for which people have awaited for some time will finally take place. The three events, which relate to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan respectively, are demonstrative of how different politics in these countries have become in the last fifteen years.

The first event, which will take place on Thursday November 2, is the planned opposition protest in Kyrgyzstan which will likely call for the resignation of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The protest could be a critical event for the political development of Kyrgyzstan, which has struggled to reform its government since the so-called “Tulip Revolution” of March 2005 that brought Bakiyev to power. To many who took part in the popular protests that forced Askar Akayev out of power, Bakiyev has been a disappointing leader who has not adequately attacked corruption and has hindered rather than promoted civil liberties in the country. Many who support the protests planned for November 2nd seem to hope that they will cause President Bakiyev to change his course and become the democratic revolutionary they had hoped he would be. Others, who have already lost hope in Bakiyev, are probably hoping that Bakiyev will be forced to resign and that a more enlightened leader will take over to reform the country. The most worrisome trend, however, is that many in Kyrgyzstan (and in neighboring countries) have decided that Bakiyev’s presidency merely shows that democracy is not a proper solution to Central Asia’s problems. November 2nd, therefore, is a turning point for Kyrgyzstan that will determine whether the country is actually moving towards democratic governance or whether it is losing faith in the ideal of democracy entirely.

The second event, which will take place on Friday November 3, is the worldwide premiere of Sacha Baron Cohen’s new film about the fictional Kazakhstani journalist Borat Sagdiyev. The film is unlikely to be shown in Kazakhstan, but its screening around the world will raise the country’s profile like never before. For some time, it seemed that the Kazakhstan government was obsessed with the image that the “Borat” film would cultivate of them abroad. In some ways, this obsession demonstrates the sophistication of Kazakhstan as a political entity that is concerned about its image in the international community. In other ways, however, the obsessions betray Kazakhstan’s preoccupation with the perception of politics and not their reality. Kazakhstan, even more than Putin’s Russia, is the model of managed democracy, which is a political system that favors perceptions over realities, scarecrow parties over real political competition, and controlled opposition media over public access to a real variety of opinions. Kazakhstan, however, is also at a crossroads politically. Concern over what people around the world think about “Borat” has been overshadowed by real problems in the country, ranging from the workers’ unrest in the Tengiz oil fields to the infection of children in the Shymkent area with HIV-AIDS through blood transfusions. With Kazakhstan’s citizens beginning to demand more than peace and subsistence from its government, reality may become more important than perception in the politics of the country. The premiere of the Borat film on November 3rd won’t be a turning point in Kazakhstan’s political development, but the country’s growing loss of interest in the issue may be indicative of a general shift underway that will gradually create the impetus for political reform.

The last event is at the end of the week’s long weekend in Tajikistan on Monday November 6th. As Tajikistan celebrates the 89th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, it will re-elect its incumbent president once more in a non-competitive election. With all viable candidates removed from the race, the election promises to be similar to the staged elections of the Soviet period. People will appear at the polling stations as a sign of loyalty to the state rather than as an expression of their political will. In this sense, the presidential elections in Tajikistan on November 6th will be yet another reminder that the country has yet to really undergo either an evolution or a revolution out of the Soviet period’s controlled political environment. Unlike in Kyrgyzstan, where the country is dealing with questions of what kind of governance the country should adopt, and unlike in Kazakhstan, where real problems of governance are forcing the state to face reality over perceptions, Tajikistan is still struggling to even create a perception of liberal democracy through a staged election. The country has yet to fully face the demons that drove it into civil war immediately after the fall of the U.S.S.R., and its citizens are far more concerned with the struggle for subsistence than with choosing their government. November 6th, therefore, is yet another reminder that Tajikistan is stuck in a world of the past, and it remains careful in its attempts to dig itself out and to face the challenges of the future.

Fifteen years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine the three news events of next week and the very different countries of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan that they affect. Without even mentioning the very different realities of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, next week’s lead news items in Central Asia are indicative of the varied development paths that politics and governance have taken in the region. Along these lines, it is difficult to envision exactly where each of these countries will be fifteen years from now.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Under One Big Tent (Yurt) in Kazakhstan: Will the Civic and Agrarian Parties Join the New “Otan” Mega-Party?

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Alexander Mashkevich of the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation

When the Dariga Nazarbayeva’s Asar party was devoured by the ruling Otan party in Kazakhstan over the summer, there remained questions about the other “pro-presidential” parties in the country. Would they also become part of the new “Mega-Otan,” or would they remain separate political instruments ready to be employed when needed? While many of these parties have proven to be temporary structures that are mostly visible only during election periods, the bloc of the Civic and Agrarian parties (AIST) has always been a little different. Various observers suggest that this party, whose constituency is primarily in the north and especially in industrial cities, was created and is financed by the well-known Kazakhstan oligarch Alexander Mashkevich. Mashkevich, who, together with Patokh Chodiyev and Alijan Ibragimov, controls the $5 billion dollar Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation that owns large mining and metal producing industries in Kazakhstan, is ranked 620 in Forbes list of billionaires in the world. He is also the founder of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, and he is thought to control the Kazakh newspaper Express-K. In general, Mr. Mashkevich, who was actually born in Kyrgyzstan, is seen as a close associate to President Nazarbayev, and it is assumed that he has significant political influence in the country.

This past week, it has been reported that the AIST bloc of the Civic and Agrarian parties is likely to join the new “Otan” party. If it does, it will strengthen the already hegemonic party of President Nazarbayev significantly and mark a change in the way that the President and his inner circle control the political landscape. Instead of establishing various “scarecrow” parties to create a loyal multi-party political context that can be manipulated in a variety of ways, Kazakhstan’s ruling elite appears ready to “put all of its eggs in one basket” by establishing a single party that will represent all of its interests. While Preident Putin of Russia has been successful with such a strategy in his creation of “United Russia,” it is unclear whether the same approach can work for Nazarbayev. By placing all of the power groups under one roof (or Shanyrak), can he be assured that they will find a common ground? Given the intense competition within Kazakhstan’s elite, and within the Nazarbayev family, I personally have some doubt. Living in the same Yurt doesn’t always ensure undying loyalty.

All eyes on Kulov and Bakiyev: Where will Kyrgyzstan be Next Week at This Time?

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Felix Kulov (left) and Kurmanbek Bakiyev (right) after announcing their coalition to run the Kyrgyzstan government

As the date of November 2 approaches, observers of Central Asian politics are focused on what will happen at the protests threatened by the Kyrgyzstan opposition on that date. Will this be another attempt to use threats of protests to attain concessions from President Bakiyev, or will this be a full-fledged attempt to hold Bakiyev accountable to his pre-election promises?

Various people in Kyrgyzstan tell me that much depends upon the moves of Prime Minister Felix Kulov. As I noted in an earlier post, there have been various attempts by the opposition to pull Kulov to its side in its conflict with Bakiyev. Kulov has retained significant popularity while Bakiyev continues to lose public confidence, and Kulov’s support of the opposition could tip the balance. Furthermore, as the pro-Russian political commentator in Bishkek Alexander Knyazov notes in a recent interview, Kulov can mobilize the power ministries to follow his lead if a conflict erupts. As of yet, however, Kulov has not flinched. He continues to back Bakiyev, and his party Ar-Namys appears to have pulled out of the camp organizing the protests.

If there is no sign of Kulov changing sides, the opposition may have little choide but to negotiate with Bakiyev. That being said, Bakiyev has not shown much willingness to make concessions to the demands of the opposition, dismissing them as unrealistic “ultimatums.” While Bakiyev may be reticent to address some demands such as those regarding his family's involvement in government, he could certainly accept the demand to establish public broadcasting as well as the demands to give parliament more power over the drafting of the new constitution.

At present, it is unclear whether there will eventually be a meeting between Bakiyev and the opposition to begin a dialog on compromise before November 2nd. Bakiyev has said that he will address the parliament concerning the situation in the country on October 30. Bakiyev has also suggested that if the parliament cannot enter into a civil dialog with him, he may decide to dissolve the parliament entirely. In the meantime, the opposition bloc “For Reform” is warning of provocations in conjunction with the November 2nd protests.

Regardless, what happens in the next week could be critical to the future shape of Kyrgyzstan. A move by Kulov to the side of the opposition could quickly lead to the removal of Bakiyev. Concessions from Bakiyev and the opposition’s acceptance of compromise could ensure that the country moves further towards reform in the media sector and in governance more generally through the adoption of a new constitution stressing checks and balances. A deterioration of discussions between the two sides could lead to the dissolution of parliament and the quick adoption of a constitution with few positive changes. The worst case scenario, however, would be that provocations during the protest on November 2nd could turn violent and spin out of control.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

For those outside the U.S. - Kazakhstan's Democratic Achievements TV Advertisement

I was finally able to find on youtube this advertisement, which ran during "Good Morning America" while President Nazarbayev was in the United States. Somebody in Washington told me that he felt bad that the Kazakhstan government probably paid good money for this adverisement, which has far lesser production values than the "ever wandered?" spot. In fact, if I didn't know better, I would have thought this was part of the trailer for the Borat film....

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Borat and Kazakhstan: The Political Psychology of the Relationship

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Rakhat Aliyev from 1990s (left) and Borat today (right)

As the PR surrounding the Borat movie approaches a fever pitch ahead of the film’s worldwide opening on November 3 of this year, more and more articles are written about the reaction of the Kazakhstan government to the Borat figure and his portrayal of its country. Most western observers are amused by the outrage that the Kazakhstan government has expressed over Borat, but the ire of Kazakhstan’s officials is more understandable to those who have spent extensive time in the country. Borat bears significant meaning for the Kazakhstan ruling elite regarding their personal development and the development of the country as a whole. In other words, to understand why the Kazakhstan ruling elite has such a visceral reaction to Borat, one needs to understand from whence the Kazakh elite has come, where they are now, and where they wish to be in the future.
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Borat at the fictional version of Kazakhstan's Ministry of Information, 2006
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James Giffen (left), Sara Nazarbayeva (center), and Nursultan Nazarbayev (right) in Manhatten during the 1990s

The character of Borat is not about Kazakhstan per se. He is about that time in history after the U.S.S.R. fell and when its newly independent successor states were first engaging the world after decades of isolation. In other words, Borat is a satire of the former Soviet Union (FSU) of the early 1990s, Kazakhstan included. The pictures above are telling: Rakhat Aliyev in a double-breasted suit and President Nazarbayev wearing a short tie with his now-indicted former advisor from the U.S., James Giffen. This is from whence the Kazakhstan elite has come in the last fifteen years. In the early 1990s, Kazakhstan did not enjoy the respect of the international community. Instead, it was seen as a backwater and under-developed country that happened to be rich in resources. It was in this context that the President of Kazakhstan found a slippery middleman by the name of James Giffen to help him engage western oil companies. And, it was in this context that President Nazarbayev and his close associates allegedly took bribes passed through Giffen in the form of cash, snowmobiles, school tuition for their children, and other “gifts.” Today, as Kazakhstan is emerging as an energy “player” on the world stage, the early 1990s likely evoke embarrassment on the part of many in the Kazakhstan elite. Borat is a satirical reminder of that time, and, while the character is primarily meant to mock the geographically challenged nature of Americans, many in Kazakhstan’s elite take him as a personal affront about who they once were.

Today, Kazakhstan is an emergent energy power in the world. It is also becoming a geopolitical player in the sensitive region of Central Asia, caught between Russia, China, and the volatile Muslim states of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. In that context, the country and its elite want most of all to be recognized as a reliable and progressive influence on the region, a power broker that can balance the strength of Russia and China with that of the Muslim world. The country’s elite has already exchanged its short ties and double-breasted suits of the early 1990s for Gucci and Armani suits with conservative cuts and silk ties from Italy. Their children study in the best boarding schools of Europe and the United States. They vacation in the alps and in the south of Spain. Instead of taking bribes through middlemen, they are placing their assets on the London Stock Exchange. Indeed, Borat’s character at first glance seems out of place in the context of Kazakhstan’s booming oil economy.

Borat’s unsophisticated character, however, still shares something with the segment of Kazakhstan’s elite that emerged from the Soviet Union. This “old guard” in Kazakhstan’s elite still does not really understand or believe in the principles of a “rule of law,” “human rights,” and “representative government.” While Borat’s follies are more about “political incorrectness” with regards to women and ethnic minorities, his sometimes violent and always uncouth behavior as well as his blatant dismissal of a “rule of law” are also a satire of the character of Soviet (and post-Soviet) authoritarian rule. This is the role Borat is playing when he says “please come see my film, if it not be success, I be execute.” This is the part of Kazakhstan that Borat’s character still represents. There has yet to be an election in Kazakhstan that has been deemed free and fair by international observers; there continue to be politically motivated arrests without due process; the media is controlled by the state and the president’s inner circle; two opposition politicians were found dead within the last twelve months, and the investigations yielded results that were not accepted by most Kazakhstanis as legitimate; public protests are stifled in the country; opposition political parties are under constant harassment. If Kazakhstan has changed significantly in the economic sphere since the early 1990s, it has changed quite little politically since that time.

It is precisely this disconnect between economic and political reform that draws criticism of Kazakhstan from western governments and human rights organizations. Because they do not really believe in democracy and human rights, however, Kazakhstan’s “old guard” seems to think it can avoid international criticism through public relations campaigns rather than through real reform. They place inserts in the New York Times and the Economist to hail the country’s democratic accomplishments, they pay for television spots, and they hire expensive Washingtion political PR firms to do spin control. The problem is that all of the money in the world (or at least that amount available to Kazakhstan’s elite) cannot really replace reality with perception. Kazakhstan’s “old guard,” thus, retains much of Borat’s character no matter how much they try to hide it. That is why they hate Borat so much—because he is a part of them.

That being said, there are others in Kazakhstan’s elite who are not as outraged by Borat. They view the satire as being a joke about Americans and Europeans, whose ignorance of Kazakhstan and the rest of the world they frequently encounter. To such people, many of whom want to reform Kazakhstan politically, Borat may also reflect a satire of the aspects of their political culture the Soviet Union bequeathed Kazakhstan. In such reformers’ vision for the future of Kazakhstan, Borat will no longer have any relevance. If that vision comes to pass, all Kazakhstanis will be able to more comfortably laugh about the entire Borat escapade. Until then, however, Borat is a bitter reminder that Kazakhstan is not yet accepted as a member of the club of liberal democracies in our present world order.

Pictures from Friday's Unrest at Tengiz

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Chevron, Turkey, and Kazakh Nationalism: How will the Tengiz Riots be Used Politically?

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Kazakhs and Turks fighting at the Tengiz oilfield site

Reports from the Tengiz oilfield suggest that what started as a personal brawl between three Turks (from Turkey) and a Kazakh (all workers for Tengizchevroil) quickly developed into an inter-ethnic/international riot on Friday. While the initial Reuters report only mentions that ten people were injured in generic “riots,” Kazakhstani sources quickly provide much more detail (and numerous rumors), characterizing the resulting riot as a “pogrom” against Turks and other foreigners. Furthermore, according to the prosecutor’s office of Atyrau Oblast’, approximately 140 people were injured during the fighting and at least eight have been hospitalized with serious, but not life-threatening, injuries.

While Tengizchevroil reports that the riots are now “under control,” this incident is symptomatic of increasingly tense relations between the ethnic Kazakh population and foreign business interests in Kazakhstan. As comments to the zonakz.net story about the riots suggest, the Kazakhs’ animosity towards businessmen and workers from Turkey has been growing since Turks first began arriving in Kazakhstan in the early 1990s. Many Kazakhs have long felt that the Turks act paternalistically towards them and take advantage of them economically. While these emotions likely played an important role in the disorder at Tengiz on Friday, the incident cannot be attributed to Kazakh-Turkish relations alone. Reports from Tengiz, for example, suggest that the attacks on Turks Friday spiraled into violence against foreign workers in general. Indeed, there is growing frustration among the ethnic Kazakh working class of Kazakhstan as the standard of living in the country improves and life becomes more expensive. For the ethnic Kazakh working class, it is particularly frustrating to see foreigners living better and supervising their work in what is now proclaimed as a Kazakh nation-state. While these workers may be receiving better pay for working in Chevron’s Tengiz oilfields and Lakshmi Mittal’s steel factory in Temirtau than they did working under Russian tutelage in Soviet factories, they also expect more now that they live in an independent Kazakhstan.

In addition, the ongoing political machinations around presidential succession in Kazakhstan have been spawning new political strategies focused on populist concerns, and these strategies have inevitably begun to focus on the Kazakh working class, especially those employed by foreign companies. Already Dariga Nazarbayeva has taken on the issue of workers’ salaries and safety at Mittal’s Steel factory in Temirtau, and her latest article attacking Mittal came out in the Karavan newspaper Friday as the violence was erupting at Tengiz. In this most recent article, Ms. Nazarbayeva says that Kazakhstan must “stop acting like an obeying colony, kneeling before a foreign gentleman from the ‘Forbes’ list (of the world’s richest people).”

The incident at the Chevron worksite could obviously fit in well with this sort of populist/nationalist rhetoric. The question is who will be the target of nationalist and populist political attacks around the events that took place at Tengiz on Friday? Will it be the Turks and foreign guest workers, or will it be the Americans and other foreign companies involved in the oil industry? Furthermore, who will control the populist/nationalist message about the Tengiz riots? Will it continue to be Dariga, or will the left-wing of the opposition, Tuyakbay’s Social Democratic Party, become more prominent in supporting the rights of native Kazakh workers? Or, will the events at Tengiz be highlighted in the platform of the new party of local businessmen expected to be formed in the near future by Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov, who has also showed an interest in the rights of steel workers in Temirtau? Finally, will any of the political forces in Kazakhstan carry the populist and Kazakh nationalist message further and utilize the twentieth anniversary of the Kazakh student protests in December 1986 as a rallying point for a new Kazakh nationalist political movement? Whatever the political significance of the violence at Tengiz this Friday, it is apparent that Kazakh nationalism is entering a new era of political importance, and this will cause at least some uneasiness for citizens who are not ethnically Kazakh as well as for foreign investors, businessmen, and workers in Kazakhstan into the near future.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

New Tactics in Kazakhstan’s Succession Struggle: Rakhat Aliyev Invites Borat to Kazakhstan!!

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Rakhat Aliyev (top) and Borat Sagdiyev (bottom)

Perhaps Rakhat Aliyev had read the three points of advice provided by Forbes columnists and PR consultants Marc E. Babej and Tim Pollak last week to the government of Kazakhstan in their attempt to steal Patton Boggs' business, or perhaps the two consultants have already been hired by Aliyev. Regardless, Mr. Aliyev is taking their third point of advice – invite Borat to Kazakhstan. In a brief interview given today to "Kazakhstan Today," Rakhat Aliyev (son-in-law of President Nazarbayev, deputy foreign minister, and competitor for succession to the Kazakh throne) dismissed Borat’s political significance as a joke and suggested that the fictional journalist visit his adopted homeland in Kazakhstan. If Rakhat does not seem yet able to impress his father-in-law by attaining the elusive chairmanship to the OSCE, perhaps he could get back in favor by making important strides in combating the negative image of Kazakhstan created by the character of Borat. The ploy does show increasing sophistication compared with Mr. Aliyev’s call for the establishment of a monarchy in Kazakhstan last month. The question is whether Borat will take the bait and travel to his adopted land before the film's primiere early next month. Either way, the stunt is likely to make Aliyev much better known in the west than anything else he has done in his political career.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Is the Kyrgyz Opposition Trying to Pull Kulov Away from Bakiyev in Advance of the November 2 Protests?

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Prime Minister Kulov (left) and President Bakiyev (right)

As the deadline for opposition protests in Bishkek approaches, there seems to be many in the opposition who are hoping that Prime Minister Felix Kulov will throw his weight to the side of the protestors and give up on his partner in the present ruling tandem, Kurmanbek Bakiyev. An editorial-styled article in the anti-Bakiyev “Belyi Parakhod” newspaper is critical of Kulov, noting that he must stand up to Bakiyev if he is to be responsive to the people of Kyrgyzstan. At the same time, opposition politician and deputy Azimbek Beknazarov declared yesterday in parliament that Bakiyev and Kulov are already opponents in the political arena. Sources in Kyrgyzstan suggest that many in the opposition camp are hoping that Kulov will jump ship on Bakiyev and take over control of the country, but Kulov has yet to show any signs of doing so. The article in “Belyi Parakhod” and Beknazarov’s proclamation in parliament may be two different approaches employed by the opposition in order to draw Kulov out into the open in his competition with Bakiyev. For Kulov, of course, this is a dangerous game that could lead to him either taking over the country or being pushed out of government entirely.

Is the “Islamic Movement of Turkestan” an Invention of the Uzbekistan SNB?

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Tohir Yoldoshev, leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the alleged Islamic Movement of Turkestan

Makhmasaid Jurakulov, the head of the Department to Combat Organized Crime in Tajikistan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, says just that. At a press conference on Monday in Dushanbe, Mr. Jurakulov noted that the Islamic Movement of Turkestan is a fictional invention created by the Uzbekistan SNB (Council of National Security) in order to suggest that this organization intends to re-establish a Turkestan and create problems for all countries in Central Asia, whereas its actual activities are only focused against the present leadership of Uzbekistan.”

While one might certainly question the reliability of a representative of the Tajikistan MVD focused on combating organized crime, Mr. Jurakulov’s assertion makes some sense. Various pundits of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) have suggested that the Islamic Movement of Turkestan (IMT), or the Islamic Movement of Central Asia (IMCA), organization was created at various times between 2001 and 2003 by Tohir Yoldoshev of the “Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan” (IMU) and that its goal is focused as much against U.S. interests and regional interests as against Uzbek interests. As such, the IMT/IMCA (at least as the supposed new incarnation of the IMU) has become a major target in the U.S. GWOT, a development that has directly benefited Karimov’s regime in Uzbekistan. Yet, there has not been a confirmed terrorist act in the Central Asian republics outside of Uzbekistan since 2001, and there is little evidence, save that provided by the Central Asian states, that any such regional terrorist network exists. There is little debate concerning the existence of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and there is some evidence the IMU has broadened its focus since 2001 to include U.S. targets. This, however, has also developed out of a situation where the U.S. is targeting the IMU and where the U.S. has been actively supporting President Karimov’s regime in Uzbekistan (until recently). Most importantly, there does not seem to be any constituency for the IMU outside of Uzbeks. Jurakulov, for example, noted at the same press conference that 80% of the IMU’s members are Uzbek citizens, and while he does not state so, we can assume that most of the 20% others are ethnic Uzbeks residing in other countries.

Jurakulov’s proclamation, therefore, brings up serious questions about U.S. intelligence in Central Asia and our present focus on the region in relation to the GWOT. It is highly likely, for example, that both U.S. academics/pundits and U.S. intelligence agencies are far too trusting of the information they receive from Central Asian governments and their intelligence agencies. In a paper published in July of this year, Fredrick Starr of Johns Hopkins University and Zeyno Baran of the Nixon Center (on the basis of information from “Central Asian governments”), for example, have characterized the IMCA (their prefered name for the group) as follows: “this unified, militant Islamic force seeks to destabilize Central Asian governments by attacking American and Israeli targets; (its) main insurgent (sic) targets are the American bases in Uzbekistan (now closed) and Kyrgyzstan, as well as the embassies in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.” They also note that “while many other radical Islamist organizations have mushroomed in the region over the last two years, they can all be considered, in one way or another, to be under the IMCA umbrella.” Similarly, a paper written for the Jamestown Foundation in 2004 by a Russian journalist associated with Putin’s “United Russia” party (strange bedfellows) suggests that there is concrete proof that the IMU has morphed into the IMT/IMCA, an assertion earlier held by an “independent” expert on Eurasian and Russian affairs publishing in Fredrick Starr’s “Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst” in 2003. If the organization is indeed a fiction, one must question our reliance on such pundits and experts as reliable sources of analysis and policy advice on the region.

To the credit of U.S. intelligence agencies, they appear to hold at least some skepticism concerning the existence of the IMT/IMCA. Neither this organization nor its alleged Uyghur-based section the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) have ever been placed on the U.S State Department’s official roster of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) (present list posted HERE). Nonetheless, the ETIM does remain on the U.S. State Department “Terrorist Exclusion List” of organizations, ties to which should exclude people from entering the United States of America, and the IMU retains a prominent place on the official FTO list, presumably due to the assertions that this organization is focused on more than just Uzbekistan.

Whether or not Mr. Jurakulov of Tajikistan’s MVD is a reliable source, the U.S. needs to review its position on terrorist organizations in Central Asia. We need to learn more about the IMU and determine whether the ETIM actually exists as a coherent and organized militant organization. We also need to determine if the IMU is truly a threat to the region of Central Asia and the U.S. more generally or only to Uzbekistan. In doing so, we need to rely on better sources than those originally emanating from the Central Asian government’s successor agencies to the Soviet KGB. We also need to hold those scholars informing U.S. policy to higher standards when they are making assertions about issues as important as the characteristics of Central Asian terrorist organizations. It must be remembered that one’s place in the new global hierarchy of the GWOT can be a matter of life and death for many people in the world today.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Rabiya Kadeer and the Nobel Peace Prize

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Rabiya Kadeer with Bill Gates in 1994 (above) and Kofi Annan in 2006 (below)

In 1998, I was eating laghman at a Uyghur ashkhana (eatery) in the Uyghur section of Urumqui. The owner, hearing that I spoke Uyghur, began to talk with me. Upon learning that I lived in Almaty, we exchanged information about the Uyghur community in Kazakhstan. Then, he asked me if I had ever met Rabiya Kadeer. I said that I had not, but I had heard much about her. Then, about ten minutes later, none other than Rabiya Kadeer herself came by the ashkhana. The owner introduced me to Rabiya-khonam, and she asked me to come to her office in fifteen minutes on the top floor of her department store that was next to the eatery. After ascending the stair case past numerous security officers, I came to her office. She invited me in, and she told me that she was very pleased to learn that I was studying Uyghur history and culture. She gave me one of her husband’s book, and she thanked me as an American for the United States’ acceptance of her husband and daughter as refugees. Then, she proceeded to tell me that she was under house-arrest for having helped the families of men who had been killed as a result of the 1997 Kuldja protests. I could feel that I was in the presence of somebody great, a person who could stand up to the largest state in the world for something in which she believed. Less than a year later, Rabiya Kadeer was imprisoned for passing state secrets to foreigners. She had given publicly available newspaper clippings to a congressional research delegation from the United States. Rabiya spent six years in jail and was only released last year.

Rabiya Kadeer is indeed a special person. Until her arrest, she had accomplished incredible achievements as a female minority in the Chinese state. She had become a millionaire through China’s trade with Central Asia, and she had founded a grassroots NGO to support Uyghur mothers in their attempts to pursue a career and support their families. After a story about her business prowess had appeared in the Wall Street Journal in 1994, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet even flew to meet her as respect to the great obstacles she had traversed in becoming the first Uyghur woman millionaire in China.

Last summer, I saw Rabiya again in Washington, DC, where she spoke before a modest audience of various people at Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS). While she was frustrated by the inability of her translator to catch all the nuances of her speech, she spoke passionately about being held in solitary confinement and being prevented from speaking to any other human for several years on end. Rabiya could not be broken.

I was very pleased to hear that Rabiya-khonam had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this last week. This transpired as her three sons remain detained by Chinese authorities and one of her daughters remains under house arrest in Urumqi, the capitol of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous (sic) Region of China. Rabiya did not win the prize, but she was graceful as always in congratulating Muhammed Yunus of Bangladesh who had been given the award. She also took the opportunity to ask Mr. Yunus to introduce his poverty reduction program in her homeland of Eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang) in order to assist Uyghurs suffering from poverty. While the Uyghurs in the northwest of China face being overwhelmed by Han Chinese immigration into Eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang), I have no doubt that Rabiya Kadeer will continue to serve the difficult role of being the conscience of the international community, which generally is blinded to the Uyghurs’ plight in China given the economic importance of the PRC. While she did not win the Nobel Peace Prize this year, Rabiya Kadeer is a person who deserves our greatest respect.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Remembrances of Nurbulat Masanov

About a week ago, I posted a request for remembrances of Nurbulat Masanov and contacted scholars who knew him well from around the world. I wanted to re-alert people to this post, which now has several comments from various scholars including myself, Ed Shatz of the University of Toronto, Gregory Gleason of the University of New Mexico, Michele Commercio of the University of Vermont, and Bhavna Dave of London’s School for Oriental and African Studies. Their remembrances can be read HERE.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Another Political Party on the Horizon in Kazakhstan?

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Dr. Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov of the Atameken Union of Entrepreneurs and KazMunaiGaz

With the widespread talk about political reforms, and especially about the establishment of a parliamentary form of government chosen by a nationwide party-list vote, it is not surprising that the constellation of political parties in Kazakhstan is transforming once again. Earlier this summer, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai formed a social democratic party, and Dariga Nazarbayeva’s Asar party was combined with the ruling Otan party. It appears, however, that the changes in the political party scene of Kazakhstan may not be entirely over. For over a year now, Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov, member of the Board of Directors of the Atameken Union of Entrepreneurs and advisor to the president of KazMunaiGaz, has been suggesting that he plans to establish a political party that serves the interests of businesspeople in Kazakhstan. In the past week, Dr. Dosmukhamedov has been once again adopting a public profile concerning the idea of a political party. Early in the week, he held a press conference in Almaty with the participation of a representative of the coal miners’ unions, a representative of the “Movement to Save Shymkent’s Children from AIDs,” a representative of the “Volunteer Society of Disabled People of Kazakhstan,” and two other representatives of organizations supporting small and medium business interests in the country. Among other things, the press conference raised the question of Kazakhstan joining the European Convention on Human Rights, allowing for human rights cases related to Kazakhstan to be heard by the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg. Later in the week, Dr. Dosmukhamedov released a book in English in the United States entitled “Atameken: Building Democracy in Kazakhstan.” While the book is mostly a compilation of previous articles by and about Dr. Mukhamedov, its last chapter is a “Declaration of the Principles of the Centre Right Political Party of Kazakhstan.” It appears as if Dosmukhamedov may indeed be ready to unveil his party in the near future. While it is unlikely that this party would be closely associated with the opposition parties in the country, it may also attempt to distance itself from the ruling party, which is increasingly looking like a revival of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The question which is on most observers’ minds, of course, is whether this party would become a vehicle for Timur Kulibayev (who is also associated with Atameken and KazMunaiGaz) to be more directly involved in the political processes of Kazakhstan. If so, the party’s platform of reforms in the rule of law and of measures to combat corruption could have some powerful teeth behind it.

Googoosha Joins the Ranks of the Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Frank Sinatra

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President Islam Karimov’s daughter Gulnara (aka Googoosha)

Googoosha (aka Gulnara Karimova) continues to move ahead with her music career. According to ferghana.ru, she recently released her own version of the famous Mexican song Besame Mucho, which has been sung by some 700 singers from Diana Ross and Frank Sinatra to the Beatles and Elvis Presley. In case you are not familiar with the song, Wikipedia has a fairly informative entry on it. Unfortunately, my scanning of the internet did not come up with an mp3 file of the song, but I did find versions of her other two songs. Her Russian rendition of “Vesna” can be heard here, and the video for her Uzbek hit “Unutma Meni” (Don’t Forget Me) is below:

I am surprised that Borat has not picked up on Googoosha’s thriving music career.

NOTE: Nathan from registan.net has alerted me (in comments below) to the fact that one can at least download the "Besame Mucho" is available for download here at shov-shuv.uz. If you do not have a good connection, however, it may take some time to download.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Will Bakiyev Save Himself Through Dialogue (Again)?

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The pressure on President Bakiyev in Kyrgyzstan is mounting. With the date of November 2 set for a large protest that will demand the President’s resignation if his election promises are not fulfilled, Bakiyev is looking for ways to establish a dialogue with those who oppose him. A similar strategy worked for Bakiyev last May when he diffused the impact of a large opposition protest by inviting his opponents to a televised discussion. The question is whether it can work again without the implementation of actual reforms.

Yesterday, Kyrgyzstan held its second “Civic Forum,” and the government was represented by Prime Minister Felix Kulov and Vice Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov. Also in attendance were numerous opposition political figures and a large number of NGO representatives. Kulov suggested that the government had to be more responsive to civic demands, but he noted that reforms should be carried out through constitutional reform rather than through public protest. Bolat Sherniyazov of the “For Reform” bloc of opposition parties, however, stated after the forum that Kulov had not sufficiently addressed the demands of the people and that his words only reinforced the resolve of the opposition with regards to the November 2 protest. Usenov seemed to be carrying Bakiyev’s main message to the Forum, which was a call for dialogue between NGOs, parties, and the government. The Forum ended with the adoption of a list of demands to be made of the President and the government. The Forum’s demands differed little from those already presented by the “For Reform” bloc, suggesting that the Forum’s participants were also ready to support the November 2 protests.

Shortly after the Forum, the press service of the president reiterated the point made by Usenov at the Forum, calling for the establishment of a roundtable with the president, NGOs, and political parties in the very near future. While the president appears to be calling for dialogue, he is also already responding negatively to some demands of the “For Reform” bloc. He has already made his case, for example, as to why it would be impossible to transform the state broadcasting service into public broadcasting, despite his election promise to do so. Without making some real concessions such as the establishment of public broadcasting, can Bakiyev broker a deal with the opposition? Or, will dialogue without action be too little too late to save the President? November 2 will be upon President Bakiyev quicker than he might think.

The Roberts Report Adds Newswire Feature

Today, I am initiating a new feature on the blog--a newswire with links to the latest news on Central Asia. The Newswire is featured on the right side-bar of the page after my profile. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

New Targets in Karimov’s Post-Andijan Repression?

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Uzbekistan President Karimov kicking a soccer ball (on left), Kobiljon Obidov (on right)

Ferghana.ru reports that the former Hokim of Andijan Oblast’, Kobiljon Obidov, has been detained under the accusation that he was involved in organizing the infamous protests in Andijan during May 2005. For a long time, Mr. Obidov was seen as one of President Karimov’s closest allies. Obidov was given the prestigious prize of “Hero of Uzbekistan” in August 1998, and he served as Hokim of Andijan Oblast’ for approximately eleven years. Since 2004, however, Obidov has been increasingly out of favor. In May 2004, Karimov removed him from the position of Hokim of Andijan Oblast’. Since May of 2006, Mr. Obidov’s son, Ulugbek, has reportedly been wanted for various crimes he committed when his father was Hokim of Andijan. The same report suggested that Kobiljon Obidov was under house arrest beginning in May of this year. According to Ferghana.ru, Obidov is now imprisoned in the Tashkent jail for his role in the events of May 2005 in Andijan, but the government has not acknowledged this publicly. If they do make this a public accusation, however, it could be a sign that those targeted for repression in connection with the May 2005 events may now be broadened beyond those critical of Karimov’s government and include other elements in the elite that Karimov sees as a potential threat.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Husband for Monarchy, Wife for Parliamentary Democracy?

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Dariga Nazarbayeva

While most political observers in Kazakhstan remain skeptical of the latest incarnation of a “commission” for democratization, people are watching this commission a little closer than its predecessors. There is a sense that this commission will lead to real changes in governance, whether those changes are in the service of democratization or not. Dariga Nazarbayeva has been the most vocal of the members on the commission, and she has recently called for the development of a system of governance based on a parliamentary majority established through party list elections. Dariga’s proposal is especially interesting given the recent odd suggestion of her husband, Rakhat Aliyev, that Kazakhstan would be best served by a monarchy. One would be more skeptical of Dariga’s proposal for parliamentary democracy if not for the recent unification of Asar and Otan into one mega-party that would be expected to dominate any multi-party system. Furthermore, at least one reliable source in Kyrgyzstan had told me several months ago that certain figures in Kazakhstan’s elite have been hoping that Kyrgyzstan would initiate a parliamentary system so that the Kazakhs could “watch whether it works.” In another statement last week, Dariga had said that constitutional changes, which would obviously be needed in order to create a parliamentary system, could not be implemented in Kazakhstan until 2008. Thus, it won’t happen this year, but it is not inconceivable that by 2008 Kazakhstan could be establishing a parliamentary form of government. A parliamentary system based on party-list elections, however, does not in itself establish democracy. Party-list elections can be as easily manipulated as any other elections, and party-list systems can also be prone to corruption. Nonetheless, Dariga’s proposal also includes suggestions for increased press freedoms, a more active civil society, and a legal environment conducive to political party development. Is this merely another effort by Dariga to dig herself out of the political hole she had created for herself last year, or is this a proposal that has the approval of her father? Or, to be more cynical, is this merely a last ditch effort to convince the OSCE that Kazakhstan is deserving of that organization’s chairmanship?

Why is the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan Playing it Safe?

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Leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party, Mukhaddin Kabiri (on right)

The upcoming presidential elections in Tajikistan look as if they will differ very little from those that preceded it. There is virtually no political competition ready to publicly contest President Rakhmanov, but there is also no interest on the part of the international community in highlighting the artificial nature of the elections. Instead, as has been the case since the civil war in Tajikistan ended, most interested parties are doing their best to ignore the elections, minimize their participation, or prevent publicizing that the elections are even taking place. While the international community is carefully avoiding any statements about the elections and local civil society organizations are avoiding any participation in the process, five political parties have announced their candidates for the presidency. This includes a candidate from the socialist party, but the party, which was split (some say with government assistance), does not recognize the candidate. Two other recently formed parties that have nominated candidates, the Agrarian Party and the Economic Reform Party, are decidedly pro-Rakhmanov and are unlikely to provide much competition. The Communist Party, which has become increasingly pro-Rakhmanov, has quietly put forth a candidate but he is also unlikely to present a challenge to the incumbent. Finally, the People’s Democratic Party has nominated Rakhmanov as their candidate, and he is ensured to win the election. Two opposition parties, the Democratic Party and the Social-Democratic Party, have boycotted the elections, but the Democratic is already complaining that it is being harassed by authorities due to its action. The real surprise, however, is the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), which is the second most popular party in the country. The IRP’s leader, Mukhiddin Kabiri, has quietly announced that his party will not run a candidate in the elections. Most likely, Kabiri has made a deal with the Tajik government in exchange for his party’s decision. But, there may be another reason that the IRP has decided to avoid participation in these elections. The IRP has a long-term vision of politics. It is quietly working on the local level to establish a strong constituency for the future. The party is aware that the people of Tajikistan will eventually be ready for an alternative to the corruption that is now widespread in the country. As the only party with a spiritual ideology, the IRP will be the best placed to fill a power vacuum once people in the country are ready to actively seek an end to the corruption and patron-client relations that characterize the present situation in Tajikistan. If that is the case, one must also wonder what kind of government the IRP would form and how various international forces, including both Russia and the United States, would react to a government in the region that is run by an overtly Islamic political party.

Friday, October 06, 2006

In Memory of Professor Masanov: Please Feel Free to Add Your Thoughts in Comments

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I am still shocked over the death of colleague and friend Nurbulat Masanov. For most of the scholars of my generation from around the world who have done research in Kazakhstan, he was a mentor and an advisor. I know that many of my colleagues are equally upset about his untimely death, and I have already received emails from scholars from Japan to the U.K. expressing shock over his sudden death. While I hope to put together a proper post on Professor Masanov over the next week as a tribute to him, I thought in the meantime I could at least encourage people to post their own memories or thoughts of him. So, please do so through the comments below. If you do not feel like posting any memories or thoughts, consider a moment of silence for him on Saturday when his funeral will take place. There is also a nice group of photos of Professor Massanov with friends and colleagues posted here.

Is the Kyrgyz Opposition Splitting over Felix Kulov?

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Emil Aliev of the “Ar-Namys” party (top) and Azimbek Beknazarov of the “Asaba” party (bottom)

It seems that the Kyrgyzstan opposition has begun to split in advance of the planned November 2 mass protest that is expected to call for the resignation of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. In Kyrgyzstan, however, things are not always as they seem. The apparent split is between the “Ar-Namys” and “Asaba” parties, and it is over the two parties’ divergent views of Prime Minister Felix Kulov. After Azimbek Beknazarov, one of the co-leaders of the “Asaba” Party, publicly criticized Kulov as being equally responsible for the problems of the country as Bakiyev in an interview in “Obschestvennyi Reyting” newspaper, the leaders of “Ar-Namys” announced that they would no longer take part in the “For Reform” movement that unites the country’s various opposition political forces. “Ar-Namys,” which is viewed as the party of Felix Kulov, has said that it still backs many of the demands that will be promoted in the November 2 protests. Is this a genuine break in the opposition over whether Felix Kulov should resign? Or, is this a careful maneuver that will better place Kulov to take over the presidency if Bakiyev was to step down?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Sad Day for Kazakhstan

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Nurbulot Masanov (1954-2006)

Several news sources from the region are carrying the sad news that one of independent Kazakhstan’s greatest and most controversial thinkers has passed away. Nurbulat Masanov was as well-known in the international scholarly community of Central Asia as he was in the world of Kazakhstani politics. He is the author of numerous works about the cultural life and history of nomadic civilization in Central Asia, and he is also the author of numerous political tracts. This past year, he was given a position as the director of a new institute of Nomadism. He said that he had already fulfilled his role in politics, and he was ready to return to scholarly pursuits. He will be sorely missed.

Cadre Re-shuffle in Kazakhstan: Where Will the Cards Land?

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Aslan Musin (top) and Karim Masimov (bottom)

Ever since the presidential election late last year, observers of the political scene in Kazakhstan have been waiting for a serious re-shuffling of top-level positions—particularly that of Prime Minister. With President Nazarbayev back from his trip to the U.S., it seems that some changes are afoot. Yesterday, it was reported that Aslan Musin, former Akim of Atyrau Oblast’, had been named Minister of Economy and Budget Planning. Musin replaced Karim Masimov, whose star has been rising within the inner circle of the president for the last several years. As one might expect, the forums on Kazakhstan’s most popular news websites, especially “zonakz,” have been alive with speculation about the move. Some posters suggest that Musin’s new appointment indicates that the “lesser zhuzh” (with Almaty’s Akim Imangaly Tasmagembetov at the head) is on the rise in Kazakhstan’s politics, but others have suggested that Musin is more aligned to what some people call the “fourth zhuzh” of Alexander Mashkevich. The other outstanding question relates to Mr. Masimov. Does his replacement suggest he is on to bigger and better things, such as Prime Minister? Will he return to the background of the political scene? Or, has he fallen out of favor for some inexplicable reason? Before anyone jumps to conclusions, however, it should be remembered that President Nazarbayev has long been a master at the element of surprise, and he balances elite interests by always keeping the various interest groups guessing.

On a more sobering note for those doing business in Atyrau, posters on the “zonakz” site were generally not complimentary of Musin’s replacement, Beregey Ryskaliev. Several posters suggested that Ryskaliev and his family had a history of being implicated in racketeering and other illicit activities. While such comments are obviously pure speculation, his interaction with Atyrau’s international business community should show his real colors soon enough.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Transcript from this Week's "John Mclaughlin's One on One" - "The Great Game - Round 2"

Several people have asked about the transcript to this week's "John Mclaughlin's One on One," which focused on Kazakhstan-U.S. relations. As Mclaughlin noted to me when the show was being taped, few electronic media outlets in the U.S. were willing to examine this story due to its complexity. Luckily, having 30 minutes devoted to the question was enough to get into at least some of the most important questions about the relationship. The transcript is now posted here.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Danish National Radio on Nazarbayev's visit to the US

For those who speak Danish, here is an interesting piece from Danish National Radio that includes an interview with myself. The piece is over nine minutes long and is entitled "Despot med olie til møde hos Bush." The link with the little speaker on it will bring you to the audio on Windows Media Player.

Kyrgyz Opposition Increasing Pressure on the Bakiyev-Kulov Tandem

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Felix Kulov – Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan

A press conference yesterday by the “For Reform” bloc of opposition politicians in Kyrgyzstan reflected increased aggressiveness against the Bakiyev-Kulov government. Aside from reiterating the group’s decision to give Bakiyev a one-month ultimatum on promised reforms, the group also stated that they were ready to list the assets that had gone directly from the Akayev family to the Bakiyev family (A to B as has been said in Kyrgyzstan)without legal justification. It is difficult to know what will happen of this over the next month, but negotiations will certainly be going on behind the scenes. Already, Omurbek Abdrakhmanov of the “For Reform” bloc met with President Bakiyev to discuss the growing tension between the government and opposition. But the opposition is already also talking about a transfer of power publicly, noting that if Bakiyev were to step down, there would not be a power vacuum as in March 2005. First, the leadership would pass to the Prime Minister Kulov, but if he were to also resign or be found unfit to run the country, it would pass on to the speaker of the parliament. Given that Kulov’s own party, Ar-Namys, is involved in the “For Reform” bloc, one wonders about Kulov’s actual position on the latest political struggles. Afterall, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Kulov could emerge from this mess as the next president of Kyrgyzstan.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Is it Undermining U.S. Interests in Central Asia? (Part 3)

Since I have received a couple of requests, I wanted to alert people to the fact that the transcripts from the Helsinki Commission hearing on the SCO are now posted---see below:
The unofficial transcript of the hearing is now here
The webcast, which does work now, is accessible here (you need to fast forward a little to get to the actual testimonies)
And, the submissions of each witness are as follows:
Senator Sam Brownback
Representative Chris Smith
Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher
Sean R. Roberts
Martha Brill Olcott
Steven Blank

“Kazakhstan, ever Wandered?”

There were two television spots that ran in the U.S. during President Nazarbayev’s visit. The first, which I still have not located on the internet, was a rather poorly produced piece on the democratic and economic achievements of Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, that advertisement did not play well in the U.S., and one person in DC told me it reminded him of a cable access spot. He said that he felt sorry for Kazakhstan if they had paid good money for it. The other advertisement for Kazakhstan, however, was quite nice and appeared to peak the interests of Americans. It was entitled, “Kazakhstan, ever wandered?” and can be viewed below courtesy of youtube

When I saw it in a public place, the woman next to me said she had seen it several times and was curious… It does have a short frame in it, however, that is a bit ominous. Out of the scenic sites of the steppe and the residents of Almaty enjoying a lazy summer day, emerges a scene of four presidents dressed in black walking confidently down the street– presidents Nazarbayev, Kuchma, Putin, and Lukaschenko. Is it supposed to be a subliminal message?

President Nazarbayev says Kazakhs are Europeans, not Asians….

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Picture of Presidents Bush and Nazarbayev from “Express K” newspaper

For those who have not yet been able to view this week’s “John Mclaughlin’s One on One,” Democratic Representative from California Brad Sherman, who was a call-in guest along with myself on the show, stated that Kazakhstan should not be held accountable to the standards of Europe concerning democracy given that the country is not in Europe. While Representative Sherman intended his statement to be in defense of Kazakhstan, I think he, and many in the U.S. government, may be misreading the country and its president. Kazakhstani citizens, and particularly its President Nursultan Nazarbayev, do not view their homeland as a developing “third world” country, and they shouldn’t. It is a country with great potential, and there is little reason that Kazakhstan should not be held to the standards of European states, at least those who are also transitioning from communism. This seemed to be the message that President Nazarbayev himself was sending in a recent interview with the BBC, when he noted bluntly that “Kazakhs are Europeans, not Asians; we were raised as such.” Nazarbayev was using these words because he feels that Kazakhstan deserves the respect of the west, including support for the country’s bid to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In many ways, it seems that Kazakhstan is ready to be held accountable to the same standards of Europe (albeit gradually), the question is whether the U.S. is ready or even able to engage them on these goals.

Are the Miner Strikes in Temirtau merely a Grassroots Phenomenon?

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From www.zona.kz.net website. The sign held up in the second picture says "Mittal, share the profits!"

As I noted on September 20, a recent large accident at Lakshmi Mittal’s mines in the Kazakhstan city of Termirtau could lead to increased problems for the British-Indian billionaire and long-time investor in Kazakhstan. While President Nazarbayev has been visiting the U.S., the situation in Temirtau has become increasingly troublesome for Mittal. For a week now, miners in Temirtau have been striking at the Mittal Steel Works complex. They want increased wages and safety improvements, and they are demanding that “Mittal Steel Temirtau” respond to their list of requests by October 7 or face further strikes and protests. According to Kazakhstan’s Channel 31 news program, these are the largest worker strikes in Kazakhstan in sixteen years, and some 35,000 miners and plant workers have signed on to a set of demands being sent to Mittal personally. The demands are understandable, and the fact that workers are organized enough to levy serious demands appears to be a positive sign for freedom of assembly in Kazakhstan. One cannot help but wonder, however, if this is an entirely “grassroots” effort. As I noted earlier, Dariga Nazarbayeva wrote an important opinion piece in the newspaper Karavan in March of this year where she called for the renewed development of labor unions in Kazakhstan and singled out Mittal’s steel works in Temirtau and Kazakhmys as two of the large industrial enterprises that desperately need to be held accountable by independent trade unions. With Nazarbayeva’s “Asar” party now consumed into the “Otan” party, could the disaster in Temirtau that killed 41 miners provide Nazarbayeva with a new entrée into politics via trade unions? If so, Mittal may just be an easy target for now, but she may be more interested in Kazakhmys and the mines and factories of Alexander Mashkevich’s Eurasia Natural Resources Corporation. To date, Nazarbayeva has not associated herself with the strikes in Temirtau, but one cannot help but wonder if her “call to arms” for the trade union movement in Kazakhstan in March is somehow related to the sudden appearance of the biggest strikes in Kazakhstan’s history as an independent state. This is certainly a situation that warrants attention over the next two weeks.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

How will Kazakhstan’s Internal Political Machinations Effect the Opening Trading of KazMunaiGaz on October 4?

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Public shares of KazMunaiGaz (KMG), Kazakhstan’s state oil company, are scheduled to go on sale at the London Stock Exchange on Wednesday October 4. According to reports, the company was valued at $6.2 billion, and initial shares in London are scheduled to sell at $14.65. Approximately 40% of KMG’s net-worth, or about $2.3 billion, will be floated in a dual listing between the London Stock Exchange and the Kazakhstan KASE market. According to London’s The Times newspaper, about half of the shares are being bought by Kazakh investors, indicating the extent to which Kazakhstan’s elite has gotten the “IPO bug.” The Times also reported that several other Kazkah-based companies are considering making public offerings on the London Stock Exchange in the near future, including the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation of Alexander Mashkevich, Patokh Chodiev, and Alikhan Ibragimov and the financial empire of KazkommertzBank.

The KazMunaiGaz IPO, however, differs from these others in that KazMunaiGaz is essentially now a state asset. In this context, the opposition political party “Real Ak Zhol” has made a public statement accusing the KazMunaiGaz’s IPO of essentially stripping the majority of Kazakhstan citizens of their deserved revenues from the country’s natural resources. This statement is a follow-up to the original Ak Zhol party’s proposed policy of public revenue-sharing for the state oil and gas company that was a central plank in the party’s platform during the 2004 parliamentary elections. Given the complexities of the IPO process and the limited access to opposition press in Kazakhstan, the statement is unlikely to delay the IPO. It is indicative, however, of the political tension in the country over issues related to natural resources. The question is will this tension effect the performance of the KazMunaiGaz shares in London over the long term? While Kazakhstan investors will certainly continue to be interested in the stock, it is large international institutional investors that will probably be the key to the stock’s success.

Kyrgyz Opposition call for Public Protest on November 2: Is Time Running Out for Bakiyev?

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President Bakiyev at protests calling for the ouster of his predecessor Askar Akayev in March 2005

The coalition of opposition groups “For Reform” announced on Friday in Kyrgyzstan that they will organize a large public protest on November 2 in the Ala-Too square of Bishkek in order to demand that President Kurmanbek Bakiyev make needed reforms now or resign. According to Aki Press, the coalition is calling for Bakiyev to address all of the demands from the May 27 “For Reform” protest, the September 17 Kurultay, and the recent resolutions of the parliament by the end of October. If he does not do so, the organizers say they will call for Bakiyev’s ouster. While the Aki Press report suggests that the organizers will call for an end to the Bakiyev-Kulov tandem of rule, opposition politician Melis Eshimkanov made a point that only the question of Bakiyev’s resignation will be raised, not the question of Kulov’s position.

This comes the day after Bakiyev made more sweeping promises for reform in an address to the nation. Can Bakiyev still buy time in this situation? Is one month enough time to implement the reforms demanded of him? Will there be more deals made as usual? While one does not want to jump to conclusions given the last rocky two years of politics in Kyrgyzstan, it does seem that the opposition is taking a more aggressive position than in the past. The question remains – is time running out on the second president of Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanbek Bakiyev?

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