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Central Asia Report: May 10, 2005

10 May 2005, Volume 5, Number 17

WEEK AT A GLANCE (2-8 May 2005). Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, the presumptive single opposition candidate in Kazakhstan's upcoming presidential elections, fell victim to an attack at an opposition gathering in Shymkent. Tuyakbai and his supporters were forced to flee as a group of aggressive young men set upon them shouting, "Where's this single opposition candidate; we're going to kill him now for [Kazakh President Nursultan] Nazarbaev!" Tuyakbai subsequently appealed to Nazarbaev to ensure a quick and thorough investigation. The president responded by ordering an inquiry into the incident. Later in the week, the independent weekly "Respublika" received an order from the Ministry of Culture, Information, and Sports ordering the closure of the newspaper. The editors, who have frequently published materials critical of Nazarbaev, promised to fight a decision they described as "absolutely illegal." Elsewhere, the head of the Central Election Commission confirmed that, according to the constitution, the next presidential election should to be held in December 2006, although he noted that only the lower chamber of parliament can set the exact date.

Acting Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov announced that the families of six demonstrators shot dead in Aksy district in 2002 will each receive 1 million soms ($24,400) in compensation. Beknazarov also promised that a new investigation will bring the guilty parties to justice. Later in the week, Beknazarov led journalists on a tour of properties linked to former President Askar Akaev; noting that the ousted leader and his cronies diverted huge sums from the state budget to build luxurious residences for themselves. In a similar vein, parliamentary deputy Kubanychbek Isabekov told a news conference that former Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev signed "unconstitutional resolutions" to bilk taxpayers out of millions of euros in a scam involving the printing of new passports. On the diplomatic front, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul visited. Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev said that Russia's political class is ready for the idea of dual Kyrgyz-Russian citizenship as recently proposed by acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev, although the legal details remain to be worked out. And at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 8 May, Bakiev offered Russia shares in currently idle factories in Kyrgyzstan in exchange for a debt write-off.

Tajikistan's Foreign Ministry sent a note to the Kyrgyz Embassy in Dushanbe protesting comments from various Kyrgyz politicians about the chances of a "Tajik scenario" in Kyrgyzstan. The ministry's statement noted that in light of Tajikistan's post-civil-war movement toward "peace and construction," the association of Tajikistan with civil strife is "politically incorrect." On the domestic front, the Democratic Party suspended its membership in the Public Council as it awaited official clarification of the mysterious transfer of party leader Muhammadruzi Iskandarov from Moscow to Dushanbe, where is currently in custody on corruption and terror charges. The Islamic Renaissance Party soon followed suit, suspending its membership in the Public Council to protest the government's lax reaction to allegations of fraud in recent parliamentary elections.

In a rare hint of dissent in Turkmenistan, an organization dubbing itself the Communist Party of Turkmenistan called for demonstrations against President Saparmurat Niyazov in Turkmen cities on 9 May. The call came in an Internet appeal and leaflets reportedly distributed in Ashgabat. Elsewhere, Bashimklych Kalandarov, the minister of water resources, was killed when his car struck a group of camels crossing the road.

Uzbekistan withdrew from GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Moldova), sealing its June 2002 decision to suspend its participation in the organization's activities. More than 400 workers at the Shorsuv Metal Works ended a hunger strike when local authorities agreed to remove the plant's director and look into allegations the workers were cheated out of shares in the enterprise. On 3 May, 70 demonstrators, many of them women and children, set up tents outside the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent; their protest hoped to draw the attention of the U.S. State Department and international community to their claims that Uzbek authorities illegally confiscated their farm in 2001. On the night of 3 May, riot police forcibly dispersed the protesters and returned them to Kashkadarya Province. Eyewitness accounts by an RFE/RL correspondent and other reporters indicated that police used indiscriminate force against all demonstrators, including women and children; a spokesperson for the Prosecutor-General's Office later said that no charges had been filed in the incident.


By Daniel Kimmage

As midnight neared in Tashkent on 3 May, truncheon-wielding riot police set on a small encampment of protesters that included many women and children. Police herded them roughly into buses for rapid removal from the capital. By morning, city workers had eliminated all traces of the event. Uzbekistan has seen larger protests recently without such forceful police intervention. What was different about this protest? And why did it provoke such a violent reaction?

The protest began on the morning of 3 May in front of the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent. Numbering 71 by their own count, the protesters set up tents and announced that they would hold their ground until their demands were met, reported. The bulk of the protesters, who included many women and children, were members of the Choriev family and hailed from the city of Shahrisabz in Kashkadarya Province. Their chief demand was the return of a farm they alleged was illegally confiscated by Uzbek authorities in 2001. They gathered before the U.S. Embassy, a family representative told, because they had despaired of obtaining justice from Uzbekistan's authorities and hoped to draw the attention of the U.S. State Department and the international community to their plight.

As detailed in a 4 May report, protesters clashed with plainclothes police as the demonstration was getting under way, but police retreated when demonstrators put up stiff resistance and pelted them with stones. Police made more subtle efforts to dislodge the protesters later in the day, surrounding them and preventing local residents from giving them water even as the temperature rose to 27 degrees Celsius. Later in the day, city authorities moved in equipment to pave the roadway near demonstrators, but gave up when female protesters lay down in front of the paving machine.

The protesters' demands were not entirely apolitical. A photograph on showed children holding a sign that read "We demand the resignation of [Prime Minister Shavkat] Mirziyoev." Protesters also demanded the resignation of Mahmud Asqarov, head of the State Property Committee, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported.

Nightfall found the protesters settling into their tents for what they expected would be a quiet night. But at approximately 11:20 p.m., correspondents from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and RFE/RL's Uzbek Service were witnesses to a violent assault on the demonstrators by plainclothes and uniformed police. Various reports put the total number of police involved in the operation at around 100.

RFE/RL correspondent Husnutdin Kutbiddinov reported: "Two buses full of Interior Ministry officers arrived and started beating protesters, including both men and women, with truncheons. In tents set up outside the embassy, there were little children, including 9- and 10-month-old babies. Many policemen stamped on those tents. There were little children asleep there. I don't know what happened to them. Almost all [the protesters] seemed to be injured. Their noses and mouths were bleeding. They were forced into buses that departed in an unknown direction."

IWPR correspondent Galima Bukharbaeva told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service the protesters were "trembling with fear. When the crowd [of policemen] was running toward them, the protesters were shouting: 'We surrender. We surrender. We'll go away.' Two seconds later, police reached them and went on beating them with truncheons." In her report for, Bukharbaeva noted that she and other correspondents were nearly swept up in the clampdown; only the intervention of a Tashkent police official saved them from a beating at the hands of riot police.

After buses removed the protesters from the capital, city workers set about eliminating all traces of the violence. A correspondent from RFE/RL's Uzbek Service found the area in front of the U.S. Embassy empty and clean on the morning of 4 May. A nearby walkway had been freshly paved. Local residents were reluctant to speak on the record about the events of the night before, but one witness shared the following impression:

"At dusk last night, I saw people there. Most of them were women and children. When I came back at midnight, I just saw two policemen cleaning up the area where there had been tents. My relatives told me that a bunch of people mainly in civilian clothes attacked the demonstrators. Later, uniformed police joined in and used force to cram the demonstrators into buses. They must have paved over the walkway in front of our building to cover up the traces of blood."

The next day, the U.S. Embassy expressed regret over the violent breakup of the demonstration. As quoted by the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), the U.S. statement read: "The demonstrators who had set up a camp across the street from the US Embassy on 3 May were exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly that are recognized by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They posed no threat to embassy security, nor did they interfere with the embassy's operations in any way. We regret that government authorities overnight removed them and resorted to force to do so."

Vyacheslav Tutin, a spokesman for Uzbekistan's Interior Ministry, said that police decided to use force to remove the demonstrators after the clash earlier in the day injured four policemen, RFE/RL reported. He put the number of demonstrators at 11 men, 13 women, and 19 children. Svetlana Ortiqova, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, stressed that no criminal charges were filed against any of the demonstrators.

For their part, participants in the demonstration complained of harassment during and after their forcible expulsion from Tashkent. Zulayho Chorieva told IRIN: "Our children were thrown into the buses like animals. We were insulted and humiliated all the way down to Kashkadarya. Since then we haven't seen our men and don't know what happened to them."

On 6 May, reported that authorities in Qarshi released 11 men they had been holding since the police broke up the demonstration three days earlier. Bakhtiyor Choriev had been a leader and spokesman for the demonstrators in Tashkent; described him as clearly frightened when he was released in Qarshi after three days in police custody. Upon his release, Choriev said that he had promised the police he would not take part in any further protests.

At least one local observer saw in the demonstration and its violent end an indication that Uzbekistan's traditional opposition, a mix of banned and unregistered opposition parties and human rights activists, is weak. Bakhtyor Hamroev, a Jizzakh-based human rights activist, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on 4 May that he was saddened to see the demonstrators left to face police on their own. "The Free Farmers party, which calls itself a defender of rights; the people who pound their chests and declare themselves members of the Erk party; the supposed 22,000 members of Birlik and their leaders -- where were they? They should have been among the demonstrators," he said.

As IWPR noted in a 4 May report, the Choriev family's protest was "symptomatic of a new kind of grassroots action in Uzbekistan -- based on economic concerns, rather then Islamic radicalism or political opposition as in the past." Recent protests confirm this, with economic complaints sparking a demonstration by up to 10,000 individual traders in Kokand in November 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 2004), a riot in Jizzakh Province in late March 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2005), and a hunger strike by 400 workers in Ferghana Province that ended only on 2 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April and 2-3 May 2005).

In previous instances of economic unrest, Uzbek authorities made efforts to avoid violence, even when protests turned violent, as they did in Kokand in November 2004 and Jizzakh in March 2005. In Jizzakh, the regional governor visited the village where the beating of a local rights activist had provoked rioting, served villagers a free meal, and apologized to them.

No such accommodations were in the offing when demonstrators gathered near the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent on 3 May, however. The harsh response indicates that there are clear-cut cases when the authorities will spurn the carrot and reach for the stick. The Choriev family demonstration appears to have crossed two red lines -- first, by bringing a hint of rural social unrest to the capital, and second, by appealing to an outside power. Faced with the prospect of an open-ended protest in Tashkent aimed at the international community, the Uzbek authorities chose to send in riot police against unarmed women and children. For future protesters, the line is now drawn clearly in the sand.


By Nikola Krastev

In an appearance on 6 May at the New York law firm Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler, Edil Baisalov, the leader of Kyrgyzstan's Coalition for Civil Society and Democracy, discussed the causes and consequences of the recent power change in the country. One of Kyrgyzstan's best-known advocates for civil society, Baisalov traveled to Washington and New York to spread the message, as he says, of what really happened in Kyrgyzstan in the last six weeks.

Baisalov described the so-called revolution in Kyrgyzstan as "unexpected, quick, and premature," not only for the outside world but for the opposition itself -- an opposition which Baisalov said was "weak and divided."

Baisalov said that, in a way, President Askar Akaev nurtured and conducted his own political demise. Baisalov went so far as to credit the former head of state as the creator and organizer of the so-called revolution. "The whole revolution, the whole credit belongs to Askar Akaevich Akaev -- to him and only him," Baisalov said. "He is the author, he is the main perpetrator, he is the main organizer, he is the person who set it up for us."

Baisalov said that as a politician and manipulator, Akaev outsmarted not only the opposition but his own allies as well. Akaev's main weapon of manipulation with his adversaries, Baisalov said, was to make repeated promises and then not deliver.

International observers have already noted that whoever wins the presidency of Kyrgyzstan in the scheduled July elections will need the support of all political forces in order to carry out constitutional reform.

In a report published last week, the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit monitoring institution, noted that Kyrgyzstan's interim government, headed by Kurmanbek Bakiev, has shown little willingness to dismantle the order established under the former president in which friends and family members hold the keys to political and economic power.

Baisalov said that the main goal for the upcoming presidential elections is to ensure that there will be no "zero-sum" game where a rival political group or clan usurps all the power.

The losing party, or parties, "should know that there is a place in the system, in the parliament, in the cabinet," Baisalov said. "The winner doesn't get it all, he has to deal with others."

Asked how he sees the process of constitutional reform in Kyrgyzstan, Baisalov replied that there should be some kind of "gentlemen's agreement" among the aspirants to power with regarding this particular issue.

"There is a constitutional clause which prevents us from changing the constitution under the interim president. So we cannot have a referendum, we cannot introduce the changes before the legitimate president is elected," Baisalov said. "But the idea is to have a draft of the constitution, to have this consensus document, and to have all of the leading candidates pledge that the first thing they [will] do is that they will have this referendum."

Baisalov told the audience in New York that many people in Kyrgyzstan, including some of the opposition candidates, do not want Bermet Akaeva, the ex-president's daughter, to be stripped of her duties as a parliamentary deputy because she is the only woman currently holding a seat in the 75-seat Kyrgyz parliament.

The issue of female participation in the political process, he acknowledged, is an embarrassing one. "We could expect a few marginal figures to pop up, there are quite a few women who could participate," Baisalov said. "But I think Roza Otunbaeva said that she is not running, she will endorse Bakiev. But we should introduce some quota [for women] of maybe 30 percent or more."

Baisalov told the New York audience that during the controversial parliamentary elections in March his coalition's 120 observers served as de facto reporters providing information to the world's news organizations. Thus, he said, they prevented attempts by Akaev allies to distribute distorted information. He said that his coalition will take on a similar role during the scheduled July presidential elections. (Originally published on 9 May)


By Gulnoza Saidazimova

The 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany is a time for celebration -- but also for controversy. The participation of some Central Asian leaders in Moscow's Victory Day celebrations on 9 May might indicate that they are backing down from their traditional reluctance to honor the Great Patriotic War. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's and Uzbek President Islam Karimov's trips to Moscow are seen as significant because they mark the first time those two have officially acknowledged the holiday.

Controversy over the Great Patriotic War heightened in the countries of the former Soviet Union following the fall of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. While the global conflict is commonly known in many of those states as the Great Patriotic War, many began to distance themselves from the Soviet celebrations -- and official name -- of the war.

Uzbekistan prefers to use the term World War II; it is also the only country in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that officially canceled the 9 May holiday known as Victory Day -- renaming it Memorial Day.

However, many of the 30,000 war veterans living in Uzbekistan appear to be unhappy with the official attitude toward what they see as the Soviet Union's greatest hour. Sirojiddin Musaev is one of them.

"Undoubtedly, the Stalingrad and Kursk battles were the most important events in World War II," Musaev said. "They changed the course of the war. However, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't mention [the Great Patriotic War] when we speak about those battles. Even though we [Uzbeks] were on Russian or Ukrainian soil, we fought for Uzbekistan, for the Uzbek people."

Musaev, and many other veterans, were deprived of the right to wear publicly their medals and orders when Uzbekistan became independent and Victory Day was renamed. No parades or wreath-laying ceremonies have been held in recent years to commemorate the victory over Nazi Germany. Pictures of war veterans in local newspapers are retouched to cover up their regalia.

"They told us: 'Don't wear your [Soviet] orders, wear only those you got from [independent] Uzbekistan,'" said Olim Ortiqov, a war veteran from Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent. "No one seems to remember that the victory was one of the greatest events in world history. Just because of what one or two persons said, we stopped mentioning the victory."

In Central Asia, people who are now middle-aged learned about the history of the Great Patriotic War from elderly relatives who contributed to the victory either in the Red Army or by working for the many plants and factories moved to Central Asia from the European part of the Soviet Union during the war.

Movies about the Great Patriotic War were another source of information. For Uzbeks, "Apples of 1941" and "You Are Not An Orphan" are just two of the many well-known films that recount the war years. The first focuses on the contribution Uzbeks made by providing apples to Red Army soldiers during the harsh winter of 1941. The second tells the story of an Uzbek couple that adopted war orphans -- in all, 14 children of different ethnicities -- giving them shelter, food, and care during the war.

In Turkmenistan, Soviet history has also undergone significant revision since the country became independent. However, the country still celebrates Victory Day on 9 May -- the day after Memorial Day. Mention of the Great Patriotic War is welcome as long as greater focus is given to Turkmens' contribution to the victory.

This year, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov honored war veterans -- ethnic Russian and Ukrainians. "Representatives of other ethnicities are attending today's ceremony. Upon the request of Russia's president, [Vladimir] Putin, I award medals to five Turkmen war veterans who are ethnic Russians, and also five Ukrainians upon the request of Ukraine's president, [Viktor] Yushchenko," Niyazov announced at an official ceremony in the country's capital on 6 May.

In other Central Asian countries, attitudes toward the Great Patriotic War do not seem to have changed much. The countries' officials celebrate Victory Day by giving speeches and laying wreaths at tombs of unknown soldiers.

In Tajikistan this year, veterans received a 300-somoni ($100) bonus on Victory Day in recognition of their contribution to the defeat of the Nazis. The award is a significant windfall in a country where the average monthly salary is the equivalent of about $16.

Sattor Mukhtorov, a well-known Tajik historian and author of several books on Tajik Soviet history, said that since the country obtained independence, the history of the Great Patriotic War has been taught more extensively as part of school curriculum:

"We used to have one or two lessons on the Great Patriotic War, but now we teach this topic for five to eight hours [of the course]," Mukhtorov said. "Interpretation [of historical events] also changed. Before we didn't talk about the role of Tajikistan and the Tajiks in the war, but now we devote much more time to this."

In the late 1980s in Central Asia, people for the first time began to publicly discuss the Turkestan Legion -- a Muslim division formed by Nazi Germany that was composed either of Soviet soldiers of Turkic origin who defected to the Nazis, or Central Asians who left before the Bolsheviks came to power.

During the Soviet era, the Turkestan legionnaires were viewed as "traitors of the motherland." Only after independence, when members of the former Turkestan Legion visited Central Asia, was more light shed on the situation.

In Kazakhstan, only on rare occasions is the Turkestan Legion mentioned. Legion member Baymirza Hayit visited his native Uzbekistan in 1992 but was immediately deported -- and has not been allowed to return.

In Kyrgyzstan, however, Hayit and Azamat Altay and Tolomush Jakypov -- who was captured by the Nazis and put in concentration camps but faced imprisonment in Soviet camps upon his return -- attended the 1,000th anniversary of the national epic "Manas" in 1995 and were received as dear guests by then President Askar Akaev.

As time goes by and controversy over World War II continues, veterans of the war continue to face hardships. While some who fought for their homeland face economic difficulties and struggle to receive benefits, many of those who sided with the Nazis and fought against the Red Army long simply to return to their homeland. (RFE/RL's Uzbek, Tajik, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Turkmen services contributed to this report. Originally published on 9 May)