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Central Asia Report: May 23, 2008

Tashkent Latest Capital To Embark On Demolition Project

By Farangis Najibullah

Tashkent's beautification project threatens to leave many out in the cold (file photo)

Authorities in the Uzbek capital are determined to give their city a facelift as part of preparations to mark the 2,200th anniversary of Tashkent's founding later this year.

To make room, scores of private homes are being bulldozed so they can be replaced by modern office buildings or luxury residences.

Residents have frequently been given short notice to vacate their homes -- and in many cases complain of insufficient compensation that makes it hard to find new ones. A small number of people in those places have been granted replacement flats, mostly in old Soviet-era apartment blocks.

It is not an unusual undertaking in Central Asia. In fact, many major urban renewal efforts have sprung up in recent years as image-conscious governments in the region try to combat drab metropolitan legacies, attract new business, and project images of growing prosperity.

But as with similar efforts in major Turkmen, Kazakh, and Tajik cities, the social costs appear high. Tashkent thus joins a growing list of Central Asian capitals and major cities where ambitious renovation projects have essentially left thousands of local residents homeless.

One 48-year-old resident of the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, tells RFE/RL's Turkmen Service that her family has fallen victim to the capital's policy of urban renewal, which was launched in 1990s.

"Our house was demolished in 2005," she says. "Since then, we have been renting an apartment. We, 15 people, live in a three-room apartment. We asked [the authorities] to provide us some place to live, but they said no.”

Ashgabat's centrally planned renovation project has brought luxurious new apartment blocks, glass and marble-clad office buildings, new roads, and green parks to the city's southern areas -- all in place of demolished homes.

Likewise, in neighboring Kazakhstan, authorities have been investing profits from hydrocarbon exports into urban renovation projects, such as in the country's former capital and current financial center, Almaty.

In Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, hundreds of private homeowners are losing their houses as part of a so-called general plan for reconstruction and renovation that began more than three years ago.

Some residents of Dushanbe, Ashgabat, and Almaty complain that they were practically thrown out of their homes. Instead of offering compensation, they say authorities accused them of building homes without the proper permits.

Official Rationales

City officials in Dushanbe maintain that their renovation plan affects only homes that were built "illegally."

Dushanbe officials also say the city provides financial compensation for those who live below the official poverty line -- that is, a family whose monthly income does not exceed the official minimum salary of $6. That means virtually no one is able to claim financial reimbursement for the loss of their home.

Dushanbe authorities say each family that loses a home is entitled to get a parcel of land -- 900 square meters in the capital’s eastern suburb -- to build a new house. However, it does not provide any money or construction materials.

In Ashgabat, many of those who lost their homes to renovation plans have found themselves in an even more dire situation. They were allotted plots of land in an area called Choganly, a desert wasteland outside the capital. Authorities have offered them tents to live in "while constructing their new houses."

Without the means to build new homes, families who lost their houses have been renting flats or living with relatives.

The new, luxurious homes or "elite apartments" that have been erected in place of demolished houses are beyond the means of most residents. In Ashgabat's southern areas, newly built apartments start at $60,000. Prices for apartments and houses in Almaty are on par with those in European capitals.

'Build Or Destroy'

In Dushanbe, ordinary citizens frequently say they "simply do not dream of owning new flats." Jamollidin Sirojov, a Dushanbe resident, says his family was evicted from its home two years ago.

"My house was destroyed," Sirojov says. "I don't know where to go or what to do. I don't understand the government at all. I don't know if they want to build or to destroy."

In April, Sirojov and some 40 other residents who lost their homes staged a protest around the local authorities' administration building to demand compensation.

In a similar move on April 15, some 20 women gathered outside the Tajik Presidential Palace to protest the destruction of their homes. The demonstrators were arrested and released later that day, after pledging they would cease such protests.

Similar protests in the Shangarak village outside Almaty ended in bloodshed two years ago, when authorities sent in a special police unit to disperse a demonstration against the demolition of residents' homes. A police officer was killed in the ensuing clash with protesters.

Several Almaty residents have staged hunger strikes to draw attention to their plight. But their actions were ignored by city officials.

Despite the protests, authorities in Central Asian capitals seem determined to go ahead with their urban renewal plans, replacing old homes with fashionable buildings -- and ignoring the dilemmas of those who were forced to give up their homes to make the way for new developments.

RFE/RL's Kazakh, Tajik, Turkmen and Uzbek services contributed to this report

Medvedev Visit Underscores Kazakh Victory Over Uzbekistan For Regional Dominance

By Bruce Pannier

President Nursultan Nazarbaev (right) meets with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in Astana

While the media focuses on new Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Kazakhstan, there is another important aspect to his trip.

Medvedev's choice of Kazakhstan as the destination for his first official visit as Russian president is an unpleasant reminder to many Uzbeks about the changing fortunes of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Nearly eight years ago, another new Russian president, Vladimir Putin, went to Uzbekistan on his first official visit abroad after being inaugurated.

Medvedev's visit to Astana is the latest proof that Kazakhstan is leaving Uzbekistan behind in the battle to be the leading power in Central Asia, a role that Uzbek President Islam Karimov and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev have been vying for since their countries gained independence in 1991.

"Kazakhstan is the dominant state politically and economically in Central Asia and I predict that it will continue to be so for some time to come," says John MacLeod, senior editor at the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting. "Certainly as long as Nazarbaev is in charge and the economic outlook is as good as it is now."

There are now only two heads of state in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) who have been in power since the first day of the organization that rose from the ashes of the Soviet Union -- Nazarbaev and Karimov.

Balancing Relations

Kazakhstan is geographically the largest of the Central Asian states and Uzbekistan the most populous, so perhaps the rivalry that emerged with their independence in 1991 was natural. Karimov's recent visit to Kazakhstan and complete rejection of Nazarbaev's idea of creating a Central Asian union of some sort (which the Kyrgyz and Tajik presidents support), shows that the rivalry continues.

Post-Soviet relations with Russia are a big factor in understanding why Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan seem to have different fortunes today, and explain why Medvedev is in Kazakhstan and not somewhere else on his "maiden voyage" as Russian leader. The current situation reflects the policies of the early years of independence.

"Karimov tried to take his state and make it into the regional leader, a role that the Uzbeks always saw for themselves and that naturally created some tension with Russia because here was a new country saying, 'I am the regional leader,' so implicitly Russia should step back," MacLeod says.

Uzbekistan could better afford bad relations with Russia, as Kazakhstan is situated between Uzbekistan and Russia, putting Kazakhstan in a different position regarding Moscow.

"Another important factor is that the country is closely interlocked with Russia economically because they have a long border and their economies are more closely intertwined than any other Central Asian state is with Russia and, importantly, also [on] a slightly more equal basis," MacLeod notes. He says other Central Asian countries are "closely tied" to Russia but "more dependent" economically.

Uzbekistan courted better ties with the West, as did Kazakhstan. But Uzbekistan did so at the expense of ties with Russia, whereas Kazakhstan never neglected the country that Nazarbaev once called a "neighbor given to us by God."

"One important difference between the two leaders is that whereas with the Uzbeks, whenever relationships with the West were relatively good, whenever the Uzbeks were courting the West, relations with Russia would be correspondingly poor," MacLeod says. "Whereas Nazarbaev made both relationships work at the same time. It's a different, much more flexible approach."

That approach is now paying off literally and diplomatically for Kazakhstan. Much of Kazakhstan's oil is exported via Russian pipelines and since both countries are getting richer from energy exports they are jointly participating in new projects -- exploring for new oil and gas deposits and constructing new export pipelines. Russia was the leading supporter of Kazakhstan's bid to receive the rotating presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which Astana is slated to assume in 2010.

Picture Of Stability

That says something about the countries, but what about the leaders of the two countries -- what is their image now?

As mentioned, Karimov courted better ties with the West after independence but Putin's 2000 visit began a thaw in the two countries' frosty ties. Then, in May 2005, there was the bloody violence in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon.

Western nations condemned the Uzbek government for ordering troops to fire on a crowd of thousands of mostly peaceful demonstrators in Andijon and called for an independent international investigation. U.S. troops based in southern Uzbekistan -- in support of operations in Afghanistan and once warmly welcomed just after September 11, 2001 -- were abruptly told to leave the country within six months.

Russia supported Uzbekistan's efforts to confront what Tashkent said was an attempted coup led by Islamic militants and to restore order and demand that U.S. military forces withdraw from Uzbekistan. But Karimov's fickle foreign policy and events like Andijon have created some skepticism in Russia.

"History makes Karimov less of a known quantity," MacLeod says. He says that, while the Kremlin supported Karimov over Andijon, "it's that sort of incident that would create concerns about the long-term stability of the country, you know? [People start thinking,] 'Is this man the right person to be leading the country?'"

That contrasts with MacLeod's assessment of Nazarbaev: "Nazarbaev has proved a fairly stable character. His behavior politically has been predictable so that when he's worked with the West on oil projects, he's done it in such a way that he managed the undoubted tensions with Russia, because Russia didn't necessarily always want Western companies to be involved in Kazakhstan, but Nazarbaev managed that, made it work for all sides."

MacLeod adds that this stability and predictably of character and longevity in office has led Nazarbaev to a new and unexpected position within the CIS.

Nazarbaev "is the elder figure [even] among the Russian politicians," he says. "He is a known figure to them, many of them will have worked with him in the past but politically he is the elder statesman in the former Soviet Union and particularly in the former Soviet Union among those countries which remain broadly loyal to Russia."

Uzbekistan under Karimov, in contrast, is a country with a history of shaky support for the CIS.

Some basic facts help in comparing the two countries today. Kazakhstan is six times the size of France and has a population of some 15.4 million. Uzbekistan is a bit smaller than Sweden and has a population of some 27 million.

Uzbekistan's average monthly wage is about $20-$30, while Kazakhstan's is more than $100. Kazakh businesses are investing in the banking and industrial sectors of many countries, which is not true of Uzbek businesses. Tens of thousands of Uzbekistan's citizens are migrant laborers working mainly in Russia but also, tellingly, in Kazakhstan, which has no significant migrant labor force of its own.

Kazakhstan annually hosts international conferences like the Eurasia Media Forum and Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia. The latter has attracted several heads of states and high-ranking officials from international organizations such as the UN. Uzbekistan occasionally holds international conferences but they are usually a onetime only event.

OSCE Appeals To Kazakhstan To Restore RFE/RL Website

OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Miklos Haraszti

The OSCE's representative on media freedom, Miklos Haraszti, has urged the government of Kazakhstan to restore access to RFE/RL's Kazakh-language website, which has been blocked for nearly six weeks despite repeated requests by RFE/RL that the service be restored.

In a letter to Kazakh Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin, Haraszti says he is "hopeful" the problem that began on April 11 was "merely technical" and could be resolved swiftly.

Haraszti calls RFE/RL an "important public-service source of information for Kazakh citizens, as well as for viewers, listeners, and Internet users throughout Central Asia and beyond."

Access has also been blocked to RFE/RL's websites in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan, because KazTelecom, the state telecom operator, is a key Internet service provider across Central Asia.

The problems come as several RFE/RL reporters face harassment in Turkmenistan and amid growing international concern that Central Asia's media environment is deteriorating, including in comparatively progressive Kyrgyzstan.

Haraszti's letter arrives at a sensitive time for Astana. In 2010, the energy-rich Central Asian power is due to assume the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The letter may draw fresh attention, however, on Kazakhstan's fitness for that office, given its shortcomings on human rights, democracy, and press freedom.

"I am convinced that the state Internet service providers were informed by Your Government that interference in providing service would violate Kazakhstan's press freedom commitments," Haraszti wrote in his letter, which is dated May 21. He adds that under OSCE Permanent Council Decision No. 633, participating states pledged "to take action to ensure that the Internet remains and open and public forum for freedom of opinion and expression."

However, rights groups decry the state of the media in Kazakhstan. In 2007, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based media watchdog, said Kazakhstan has "total control of influential broadcast media" and a "record of unpunished attacks on the press." The U.S.-based democracy watchdog Freedom House has labeled the Kazakh media as "not free."

This week, the CPJ weighed in again, voicing concern about RFE/RL's blocked Central Asian websites.

"We are concerned about Kazakhstan's procrastination in restoring service to RFE/RL's local language website despite repeated requests by the broadcaster," Nina Ognianova, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said in a statement released on May 20. "The website is an essential alternative source of news and information for Kazakhstani audiences, and authorities should make it their priority to return it to them."

Kazakh officials so far have not publicly commented on the OSCE's letter, which came after RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin publicly criticized Kazakh authorities for failing to promptly address what he called "a very disturbing" problem. Gedmin said Astana's failure to respond to the outage "suggests it's a case of deliberate interference."

Further Concerns

Blocked websites are not the only Central Asian challenge facing RFE/RL, which is funded by the U.S. Congress and broadcasts in 28 languages in 21 countries.

In Turkmenistan, several RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondents have recently faced harassment by the authorities. At least two correspondents have been told to stop working for RFE/RL or face unspecified consequences. Other reports have been denied official accreditation, thus depriving them of a legal basis for working as journalists.

The authorities in Uzbekistan forced RFE/RL to close down its Tashkent bureau in late 2005, although Uzbek-language broadcasting continues.

In Kyrgyzstan, meanwhile, international rights advocates have voiced concern over a new media bill that they say would kill any progress on press freedom made since Bishkek's 2005 popular uprising to oust leader Askar Akaev.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev is due to approve or reject the bill by May 24. It's unclear whether he will sign it into law.

"President Bakiev must veto this new bill, which obliterates Kyrgyzstan's attempt at broadcasting reform," the CPJ's Ognianova said in a statement on May 15. "If signed, this law would neuter the modest press freedom gains of recent years by giving the state total control over broadcasting."

Azerbaijani-Turkmen Summit Marks Potentially Lucrative Thaw In Relations

By Bruce Pannier

Presidents Aliyev (left) and Berdymukhammedov in Baku

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev declared that "all issues have been resolved" with Turkmenistan following his talks in Baku this week with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

Aliyev and Berdymukhammedov declared a "new stage" has been reached in relations that could enrich both countries as they seek -- with prodding from the United States and European Union -- to find ways to ship their Caspian energy resources to Western markets.

Both presidents used words like "brotherly nation" and "common interest" often in their comments to the media. Berdymukhammedov, in the first visit to Azerbaijan by a Turkmen president since 1996, praised his hosts and also announced that Ashgabat would write off $44 million in debt owed it by Baku.

But when it came to the major question -- the construction of a pipeline to carry Turkmen gas across the Caspian to Azerbaijan and on to Europe, bypassing Russia -- the presidents were optimistic but noncommittal.

Berdymukhammedov, who has steered Ashgabat along a more pragmatic course since taking over last year following the death of his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, said the two countries are uniquely positioned to play a key role in energy exports.

"The advantageous geopolitical location of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, located at the intersection of Europe and Asia, offers the opportunity to use this fortunate location for the good of neighboring countries and for the interests of the two countries -- and also for other countries in the West and in the East," he said.

The two neighbors, who both possess large oil and natural-gas reserves, lie on opposite sides of the Caspian Sea. As the distance between their shores is the shortest route across the sea, the world's largest inland body of water, it has long made sense that any Caspian energy export route would exploit this advantage. But the previous leaders of the two countries so disliked one another that they could not even talk.

Aliyev -- whose father, his predecessor, died in 2003 -- said all that has now changed. He added that a trans-Caspian route was the main topic of his talks with Berdymukhammedov, but avoided giving any specific details.

Hope For A Caspian Solution

The Azerbaijani president said they "discussed questions connected to transport problems and we planned concrete ways to solve those problems still confronting our countries and which will facilitate the creation of a powerful transportation network in our region."

Still, there was no sign of any resolution of one of the main points of contention between the two countries: the three disputed hydrocarbon fields that lie directly between them in the Caspian that both countries claim.

Representatives of both nations discussed that issue and noted progress. But they failed to give any specifics, such as whether they were closer to agreeing on jointly developing the fields.

Berdymukhammedov stressed that the legal status of the Caspian -- whether it is a sea or lake -- must be decided soon. The question is vital to determining how the Caspian's resources can be divided among all littoral states, including Russia, Iran, and Kazakhstan:

But Aliyev added that if his country and Turkmenistan could resolve their differences over the disputed fields, then that could also lead to a final decision on the Caspian's status.

If the Caspian is deemed a sea, then all five littoral states would have territorial sectors extending from their shorelines that they could develop as they wish. If the Caspian is declared to be a lake, then all five states should jointly develop its resources and share the profits. Two Caspian summits have failed to resolve the issue. Another summit is planned for this year.

However, the two presidents' remarks and the atmosphere in Baku provided plenty of hope for those who, like the United States and the EU, are encouraging both countries to throw their weight behind a trans-Caspian pipeline project.

The presidents announced, as a symbol of their new warm ties, that a conference on the "Oil and Gas of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan" would be held in September. And in keeping with the flurry of diplomacy in the region this year, there will be more bilateral meetings before then. The EU and the United States, eager to see a trans-Caspian pipeline, can be expected to encourage this new warmth in relations.

For now, the Western powers can take comfort in what Aliyev hailed as a "qualitatively new stage" in relations with Ashgabat.

World-Renowned Author Aitmatov In Serious Condition

Chingiz Aitmatov

The legendary Kyrgyz author Chingiz Aitmatov is in a hospital in Nuremberg, reportedly in a coma after he suffered kidney failure on May 16.

The 79-year-old Aitmatov was in the central Russian city of Kazan, where a Russian film crew was making a documentary about his life, when he complained of feeling ill, fell into a coma, and was quickly rushed to a local hospital. On May 19 he was transferred by plane to a hospital in Germany.

Aitmatov's works have been translated into more than 150 languages and some of his books have been made into films. Among his many fans are former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Abdyldajan Akmataliev, a scholar of literature and the director of the center for the study of "Manas," Kyrgyzstan's epic heroic poem, at Kyrgyzstan's Academy of Sciences, describes Aitmatov as "an author of world significance."

He tells RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that Aitmatov's works have been translated into 170 languages and more than 40 million copies of his books have been sold worldwide.

Aitmatov is the son of Kyrgyz and Tatar parents, but his writing transcended ethnic barriers to the point where all Central Asians considered him "their" writer, and indeed, citizens of the Soviet Union came to consider him "their" writer as well. His books were popular for truthfully describing life in the Soviet Union, but were sufficiently tempered to avoid being considered outright criticism of the Soviet authorities.

In his book "The Day Lasts Longer Than 100 Years," Aitmatov coined the term "mankurt." The book explored the feelings of a young Kazakh man who was torn between the traditions of his people and the efforts of the Soviet government to create a "Soviet person." A "mankurt" was a Central Asian who had opted for being the "Soviet person," and the term was adopted and used derisively by Central Asians.

Aitmatov has for years preserved his good image and politicians of all stripes in his native Kyrgyzstan have sought the writer's public support, hoping to tap into Aitmatov's popularity. He has also been good for Kyrgyzstan's image, drawing positive attention to the small Central Asian country similar to the kind of publicity that former Czech President Vaclav Havel earned for his country.

Aitmatov has also served as Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to European countries, NATO, and UNESCO.

Works by Aitmatov have received numerous awards, including Soviet-era accolades like the Order of Lenin, the Gold Olive Branch of the Mediterranean Culture Research Center, the Academy Award of the Japanese Institute of Oriental Philosophy, and the Austrian State Prize for European Literature.

Aitmatov has three sons and a daughter.

Aitmatov's father was executed by the Soviets in 1938 on charges of being an enemy of the people.

Amirbek Usmon of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report

Authoritarian Uzbek President Publishes Tome On ‘Morality’

By Farangis Najibullah

State television compared Uzbek President Islam Karimov's latest book to the writings of Socrates (file photo)

In Central Asia, they're known as the "books that won’t be read." Yet regional leaders keep churning them out.

The latest book is “Morality Is Invincible Power” by Uzbek President Islam Karimov. It’s an ironic title for a book written by a leader known as one of Central Asia’s most authoritarian. Karimov, like other strongmen in the region, is a prolific writer, with more than 30 million copies of his books in circulation.

Last week, Uzbek state television showed the presidential book-launch ceremony, where participants praised Karimov’s new work as “the best book on philosophy and morality since the times of Socrates,” the ancient Greek who was one of the founders of Western philosophy.

Mahmud Tohir, an Uzbek poet, has read Karimov’s new book. He says it could be “a spiritual guide not only for Uzbeks but also for all the other nations of the world."

“In all times and in all periods, persons with accomplished morality have become their own people’s spiritual guide and eventually -- depending on the level of their profound knowledge -- have turned into a guide for the whole of humanity," Tohir says. "This book looks, firstly, at the world’s development and secondly, looks to the future of the Uzbek motherland and its hard-working people.”

Compulsory Reading

Most probably, the book -- like Karimov’s previous works -- will become compulsory reading for students and professors.

University students are required to take exams every year on Karimov's numerous works, deemed an essential part of their education no matter what profession they have chosen -- be it veterinary medicine or road engineering. High-school graduates who want to enter university also have to pass exams on Karimov’s books. Uzbek media have quoted students as saying they find Karimov’s books “utterly boring.”

Literary ambition is something of a tradition among Central Asian presidents. Almost all of Karimov’s fellow Central Asian presidents have authored books and so-called “collections of speeches and articles.”

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has authored two books -- “The Strategy of Independence” and “In the Heart of Eurasia” -- along with dozens of scientific research papers.

Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan claims to have authored several books on Tajik history. He has stopped short of making his books part of the educational curriculum, but most government officials keep Rahmon’s books in their offices and homes as a sign of loyalty to the leader.

Only a few months after becoming Turkmen president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov published his first book dedicated to his country’s health-care system.

But none of the leaders come close to the late Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov’s passion for writing. Niyazov’s “Ruhnama” -- a mixture of moral guidance, history, and autobiography -- was intended to be the Turkmen people’s spiritual guide and the basis for their art and literature.

Government offices, mosques, and churches in Turkmenistan were required to prominently display a copy of “Ruhnama,” or “Book of the Soul,” while the Education Ministry was ordered to make the president’s tome the most crucial part of the curriculum -- from primary schools to universities.

Monumental Work

Turkmen even had to take an exam on “Ruhnama” to obtain their driver's license. And a huge monument to the book was built in Ashgabat, the capital.

Likewise, Karimov also imposes his books on ordinary Uzbeks. Unlike Niyazov, however, most of Karimov’s books carry a clear political message.

Shortly after a public uprising in the city of Andijon in May 2005, in which rights activists said Uzbek forces killed hundreds of protesters, Karimov wrote a book detailing his account of the event, called “The Uzbek People Will Never Depend on Anyone.” Much of the book was an attempt to counter foreign media reports that blamed his government for the Andijon tragedy.

Now, with his opus on morality, Karimov has cast himself in what might be called an ironic light.

RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Oktambek Karimov contributed to this report

Kazakh President's Former Son-In-Law Offers To Testify In 'Kazakhgate' Probe

By Bruce Pannier

Rakhat Aliev (file photo)

Rakhat Aliev, the exiled former son-in-law of Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev, says he's ready to give evidence in a U.S. investigation into whether Nazarbaev and other Kazakh officials took bribes from U.S. businesses to receive lucrative oil contracts more than a decade ago.

Aliev's offer comes the same week that "The Wall Street Journal" reported that Aliev's former wife -- and President Nazarbaev's eldest daughter -- Darigha Nazarbaeva, hired U.S. firms to monitor the investigation into those bribery allegations, known as "Kazakhgate."

It is a scandal few countries want to see in the news.

Kazakhstan is becoming a major oil exporter at a time when everyone, including Western democracies, is seeking new suppliers for their energy needs.

Kazakhstan is also due to receive the rotating chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010. The OSCE made that decision in late November 2007. By that time, Aliev had already been charged with illegal business activities, kidnapping officials from a Kazakh bank, and other crimes. But Austrian authorities rejected a Kazakh request to extradite Aliev to Kazakhstan for trial.

Other, more serious charges of treason and plotting a coup soon followed and, in two separate trials earlier this year, Aliev was sentenced in absentia to 40 years in jail.

Man Of Privilege

Aliev remains in Austria where he worked as Kazakhstan's ambassador until May 2007, when he was dismissed from his post, the charges against him surfaced, and notice was delivered to him in Vienna that Darigha Nazarbaeva had divorced him.

Aliev was a man of privilege in Kazakhstan. He worked as a doctor and then later headed the country's tax service. He also served as first deputy security minister, first deputy foreign minister, and in other key posts, including as Kazakhstan's representative to the OSCE during the years Kazakhstan was negotiating to obtain the organization's presidency.

When charges continued to pile up against Aliev, he struck back. Recordings of taped phone calls purportedly between high-ranking Kazakh government officials -- some allegedly with the voice of Nazarbaev -- were leaked to opposition websites. The conversations allegedly concerned bribes involving millions of dollars and also contained references to physical retaliation against political opponents. The appearance of the tapes caused Kazakh authorities to block those sites and initiate legislation to change the laws governing Internet sites.

The tapes first appeared late last year, and then more appeared ahead of Aliev's January trial when he was convicted, in absentia, of illegal business activities, kidnappings, assault, illegal possession of weapons, and other charges. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

More tapes surfaced after Aliev was convicted in absentia in March on charges of plotting to overthrow the government, selling state secrets, and treason. He received another 20 years in prison.

Questions Of Legality

On May 12, "The Wall Street Journal" published an article headlined "Kazakh Leader's Daughter Monitored U.S. Bribe Case." The article said Darigha Nazarbaeva "used well-connected Washington private security consultants to gather information on a U.S. bribery probe involving her father."

Darigha Nazarbaeva

There are now questions about the legality of this "monitoring," since information about the investigation is confidential. The article mentions former high-level U.S. intelligence and security officials -- including a former CIA chief and former FBI directors -- having worked with at least one of the firms, and it questions whether such people could have used their contacts in the Justice Department to gain information about Kazakhgate and pass it to Nazarbaeva.

Former New York banker James Giffen is alleged to have been a middleman passing money from U.S. oil companies to President Nazarbaev and other Kazakh officials in exchange for oil contracts in Kazakhstan. The case has raised eyebrows not only for the accusations themselves but for the slow pace in which the investigation has progressed in the United States, a country with great interests in Kazakhstan's oil industry. Kazakhgate is a taboo subject in Kazakhstan, and several media outlets that reported on it were victims of vandalism or crippling financial investigations that resulted in their closure.

Aidos Sarym, director of the Altynbek Sarsenbaev Foundation, tells RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that Nazarbaeva's interest in the case would be natural, especially given her ambitions.

"Darigha Nazarbaeva is one of the persons who would return to Kazakh politics in the future," Sarym says. "Anyway, it's clear for me that she wants to stay in politics after [her father's] era, and she wants to be in politics and to be the first person in politics. From this point of view, it's clear that if she thinks about her future, if Kazakhgate continues, if the trial starts, it will work against her political interests. But it isn't clear how much of what she did was legal."

Playing Double Game?

Longtime opposition politician Zhasaral Kuanyshali agrees that it could be simply a case of a loyal daughter seeking information to help keep her father out of trouble. But Nazarbaeva was married, seemingly happily, to Aliev while the investigation was proceeding and being monitored. He wonders whether Nazarbaeva might be playing a double game.

"If her intentions toward her father are honorable, then it's understandable that she would want to become aware and defend her father in the Kazakhgate affair," Kuanyshali says. "And the second possibility is whether her intentions toward her father are different and she wants to use [the monitoring] in a struggle against him.

"We know, we take into consideration that there are conflicts within the [Nazarbaev] family. There is also the situation around Rakhat Aliev," Kuanyshali continues. "Darigha may have some resentment connected with her husband's treatment, and it's possible she could carry out her own policies against Nazarbaev because Rakhat Aliev is struggling for power, wants to return to head Kazakhstan. I think Darigha wouldn't disown him. Probably they have some agreements."

Aliev's threat to come to the United States and give evidence that could clearly link President Nazarbaev to the scandal seems to have been prompted by "The Wall Street Journal" article. On May 15, Aliev posted copies of what says are an Interpol warrant, issued by Liechtenstein, against Nazarbaev, his former prime minister, the former head of the state oil company, a former presidential adviser, and another of Nazarbaev's daughters, Dinara. Also posted was a photocopy of a check for $1 million made out to the "bearer" that is supposed to be from one of the payoffs to Kazakh officials.

Aidos Sarym said posting the warrant and check and Aliev's apparent willingness now to present his evidence in U.S. courts bodes ill for President Nazarbaev.

'Ready To Show What He Has'

"There is a possibility that this is to demonstrate their power because it is clear that they have information and documents," Sarym says. "Rakhat Aliev is only showing a small portion of it, but there is a nuance in this in that Rakhat Aliev is ready to go to the Kazakhgate trial in the United States and show what he has. I think it will force Nazarbaev's inner circle to think about it.

"Rakhat Aliev has already posted some documents on the Internet and in the newspapers, but he never said to whom, exactly, they pertained," Sarym continues. "The first documents he has published were already known, but this check, of course, is a new thing. These documents were published to demonstrate he has a lot of documents in his possession."

One of Aliev's accomplices in his alleged criminal activities is former Kazakh security chief Alnur Musaev, who has also been sentenced in absentia to a lengthy jail term. Aliev's connection to Musaev explains how the former presidential son-in-law may have obtained such damning evidence on the Kazakh president.

RFE/RL Kazakh Service Director Merhat Sharipzhan and correspondent Erzhan Karabek contributed to this report

Tajikistan: 'Disappearance' Of President's Brother-In-Law Sparks Rumors

By Farangis Najibullah

Hasan Sadulloev

Hasan Sadulloev, a powerful Tajik businessman and the brother-in-law of President Emomali Rahmon, has not been seen in public for nearly two weeks.

Sadulloev is considered to be one of the most powerful and wealthiest people in Tajikistan. His last public appearance was on May 2, when Tajik state television showed footage of Sadulloev accompanying President Emomali Rahmon in his meetings with residents in the southern Yavan district.

Speculation is rife across Tajikistan, as well as on regional websites -- including and -- that Sadulloev was shot dead on May 2 by his nephew, Rustam, who is Rahmon's eldest son. According to those websites, Sadulloev was allegedly killed after a family feud over control of Orienbank and amid the presidential family's dismay with Sadulloev's growing ambitions. The reports cannot be confirmed.

The 40-year-old Sadulloev controls Orienbank, which with reported assets of $47 million is one of the largest financial institutions in Tajikistan and a key part of Sadulloev's vast business empire.

Tajikistan's official media have been silent on the issue of Sadulloev's disappearance. The President's Office has not commented, either. Regional website reported that Rahmon has allegedly threatened to punish any source in Tajikistan who reports on the issue.

Sadulloev usually accompanied the president on his regional visits but was not seen with Rahmon during his trip to Kazakhstan this week. Also unusual is that Rahmon himself did not take part in Victory Day celebrations on May 9, which culminated with a military parade in the capital, Dushanbe. Rahmon had not missed the event since becoming president. These no-shows by Rahmon and Sadulloev have added to speculation that something is wrong within the first family.

'He Is In Good Health'

Officials at Orienbank insist that nothing has happened to Sadulloev, and that the rumors are nothing more than "old ladies gossiping at the marketplace." At least two officials at the bank told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that they had seen Sadulloev "just half an hour ago."

Sadulloev's deputy, Umed Davlatzoda, says Sadulloev is alive and well but does not want to comment on the rumors.

"Really, it's not more than a plot made by those who look for scandals," Davlatzoda says. "Thank God he is in good health. He is attending his work and, God willing, he is doing well."

Sadulloev, whose sister Azizamoh is married to the president, began to accumulate his wealth in late 1990. According to reports, Sadulloev's business empire includes at least 13 ventures in Tajikistan, including five cotton mills, several factories, and at least three food-processing companies. His business sphere also includes real-estate developments, transport, insurance companies and, of course, banking.

The popular FM radio station Imruz -- which was taken off the air last month after government officials cited "technical problems" -- is also part of Orienbank's media-holding group.

During the last year, there were independent media reports of bitter fighting between Sadulloev and some of Rahmon's nine children over control of Orienbank and other enterprises. "Charoghi Ruz," an independent Tajik-language publication run by Rahmon's outspoken critic Dodojon Atoullo, had reported on growing disagreements between Sadulloev and the president's daughter Tahmina. Among other ventures, Tahmina owns the Sitora shopping center in Dushanbe.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report

Kazakh, Tajik Presidents Show Oil And Water Do Mix

By Bruce Pannier

Presidents Rahmon (left) and Nazarbaev at a previous meeting in September 2007

In return for closer ties with Kazakhstan, visiting Tajik President Imomali Rahmon has hinted at support for a Kazakh plan to form a Central Asian Union -- an idea also backed by Kyrgyzstan but soundly rejected by Astana's main regional rival, Uzbekistan, and unlikely to please Russia.

Rahmon offered his upbeat appraisal during a visit to the Kazakh capital this week to "improve bilateral ties," including to seek economic help from his oil-rich neighbor.

The agreements that Rahmon signed with President Nursultan Nazarbaev, and the plans about which the two leaders spoke, could signal a new regional alignment at the expense of Russian and Uzbek influence in Central Asia.

President Nazarbaev has long sought greater influence for his country, but appears to have stepped up the effort recently.

More than a decade and a half after the Soviet Union collapsed, Kazakhstan is emerging as a regional power in at least several areas. The money from its oil industry, just now starting to produce in large quantities, gives Astana the kind of revenues that its Central Asian neighbors can hardly imagine. Its banks are among the region's pioneers in tapping foreign stock markets. Kazakhstan is also investing in other countries in Europe and Asia, but also closer to home in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, where Kazakh companies own shares in banks and various industries.

With wealth comes prestige. In 2010, Kazakhstan will assume the rotating presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), raising Astana’s international clout.

So it is no surprise that Rahmon - whose poor, agrarian country just endured one of its worst winters in decades -- came to his northern neighbor for help. At a news conference with Rahmon in Astana on May 13, that is precisely what Nazarbaev said he would give Tajikistan.

"Today, we agreed on quickly launching a Kazakh-Tajik investment fund," Nazarbaev said. "The Kazakh side will put $100 million into the fund, which will realize projects on the territory of Tajikistan and joint projects."

Hydroelectric Hopes

He added, without elaborating, that Kazakhstan would provide other help to Tajikistan in coming weeks. But it was Nazarbaev's remarks about the longer-term that indicated Kazakhstan has ambitious plans for eastern Central Asia.

"We are interested in the hydroelectric resources of Tajikistan," Nazarbaev said. "Today, we agreed that if a consortium will work on the Rogun hydroelectric power station, then Kazakhstan will take part, providing materials, helping with shares [in the consortium] and as investors. We are also interested in other hydroelectric power plants; we are interested in constructing lines to carry hydroelectricity through Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan in order to purchase hydroelectricity from your country."

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan currently depend on Uzbekistan for natural-gas supplies, and Uzbekistan has shown that it is serious about payment deadlines.

Supplies to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are regularly cut off, even in the winter, over bills that amount to under $3 million. Southern Kazakhstan also depends on Uzbek gas, so Kazakh authorities are sympathetic to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan's problems.

Uzbekistan has a virtual monopoly on energy supplies to its eastern neighbors. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has never shown much interest in helping Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan develop their vast hydroelectric potential.

Nazarbaev's proposed electricity route skirts Uzbekistan, where the land is more level and better suited to constructing power lines. Instead, it would traverse much more difficult terrain -- the Pamir and Tien-Shan mountains -- to reach Kazakhstan.

"One of the most important projects for our future cooperation is the energy sphere, where we also reached concrete agreements," Nazarbaev said in an allusion to the plan. "In particular, Kazakh investment will be directed toward the construction of a hydroelectric power station (Rogun) in central Tajikistan."

Until the end of last year, Russia's RusAl had a contract to build that station. But disputes between the company and Tajik authorities over the size of the dam for the station led to an annulment of the contract.

Preferred Customer?

Kazakhstan, with a keen eye on its own interests, is now offering financial help.

Kazakhstan is also seeking to invest in hydroelectric projects in Kyrgyzstan, another country where Russian businesses seemed until recently to have locked down projects on Kyrgyz and Tajik rivers that are the source of most of Central Asia's water.

Rahmon received a vague promise about Kazakhstan helping to alleviate a food supply problem that Tajikistan is almost certain to suffer in the coming months. Tajikistan's herds and winter crops were devastated by long periods of sub-freezing weather this winter. Snow that piled high in the mountains during those months will soon be causing floods as it melts. Adding to this problem is the worldwide shortage of basic foods, which prompted Kazakhstan to announce a ban on grain exports until September 1 to protect its own citizens.

Nazarbaev appeared moved by Rahmon's appeal for an exception to Astana's grain export ban, but the Kazakh president kept his offer modest. "We are interested in providing [wheat] to Tajikistan, our neighbor, and of course in the soonest possible time we will. I discussed this with [Rahmon] earlier," the Kazakh president said. "Now our ban [on grain exports] lasts until the new harvest, until the first of September, but naturally then we will provide Tajikistan, first of all, with wheat."

Rahmon also asked for Kazakhstan's help in training and equipping Tajik border guards along Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan, Central Asia's first line of defense against narcotics trafficking.

Since Kazakhstan's first year of independence, Nazarbaev has had a vision of a "Eurasian Belt" -- a regional alliance or union of some type. Central Asian states have tried on several occasions to create such a regional organization but without any lasting success.

Nazarbaev is once again proposing the idea of a Central Asian union. Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev visited Kazakhstan in the second half of April and said his country supported the plan. Less than a week later, Uzbek President Karimov -- Nazarbaev's rival vying for regional leadership since independence in 1991 -- visited Kazakhstan and said Tashkent was not at all interested in being a member of such a grouping.

But with both Dushanbe and Bishkek standing to benefit from Kazakh aid and other preferential treatment, Astana's bid to boost its leadership role in Central Asia appears to be moving forward without the Uzbek president-for-life.

RFE/RL Kazakh Service director Merhat Sharipzhan and Erzhan Karabek of the Kazakh Service and Iskander Aliev of the Tajik Service contributed to this report

Uzbekistan: West Accused Of Memory Failure Over Andijon Bloodshed

By Farangis Najibullah

Some of the bodies of those killed when security forces fired on Andijon demonstrators

Three years after Uzbek security troops opened fire on a public square packed with peaceful demonstrators, President Islam Karimov's government maintains that the crackdown thwarted a plot to overthrow the government and establish Islamic rule.

His administration continues to reject Western and UN demands for an independent inquiry into the deadly confrontation in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon on May 13, 2005.

But as the anniversary approached, the West stood accused of forgiving the Uzbek government for a massacre of civilians at Andijon and warming to Tashkent for strictly geopolitical reasons.

Rights activists have expressed concerned that international attention has been fading and Western concern for the victims has been replaced by the West's desire to boost its own energy security, given Uzbekistan's huge deposits of fossil fuels.

"At the end of April, the EU foreign ministers met to discuss sanctions [against Uzbekistan]," Maisy Weicherding, Central Asia researcher for Amnesty International, told RFE/RL. "When we actually read through the final conclusions there was absolutely no mention of Andijon and that was the reason why sanctions -- however limited they were -- were imposed on Uzbekistan in the first place."

The European Union, which initially condemned the bloodshed and demanded an international probe, has gradually eased its stance toward Tashkent.

Iron Fist

Uzbek state television has broadcast trials showing defendants being convicted of plotting the protest and the unrest that preceded it in the eastern city of Andijon, including admissions of guilt and expressions of remorse.

Human rights groups accuse Uzbek authorities of extracting those confessions through duress or threats to the men's families. Uzbekistan has long been criticized by international organizations and Western states over allegedly widespread torture and abuse of detainees.

A rash of overnight violence and lawlessness by armed men targeted mostly local institutions on May 12-13, and included a jailbreak to free purported followers of the Islamist Akramiya group and the occupation of city hall.

But eyewitnesses said the vast majority of protesters on the central square when troops began firing were men and women who'd turned out to complain of economic hardship.

Shuhrat, who lives in a village near Andijon, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that it was poverty that forced people to take to the streets. Shuhrat said that low incomes and high unemployment prevented many residents from feeding their families.

"Being able to afford white bread has become a privilege for us," Shuhrat said. "It's true. A family who can afford white flour, white bread, is considered to be very, very rich among us."

Uzbek officials have claimed that just 187 people, many of them soldiers, were killed during the violence, and that the others were involved in a "foreign-sponsored" insurrection.

Human rights groups and eyewitnesses have said at least 700 people were killed when the troops fired on the crowd, including women and children.

Turning Down The Heat

The fact that no independent investigation has taken place -- despite U.S. and European calls for such a thing -- is pointed to by Weicherding as another failing of the West.

"Has Uzbekistan shown any initiative at looking into Andijon and allowing an independent investigation? No," Weicherding said.

After the Andijon events, the EU implemented limited sanctions against Karimov's government, including an arms embargo and a visa ban on 12 senior Uzbek officials.

The following year, however, four officials were taken off the visa-ban list. And in 2007 and again in April, the visa sanctions against Uzbekistan were suspended for six months.

During a visit to Central Asia in April, EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner defended Brussels' stance, saying Tashkent has taken steps to improve human-rights conditions.

"Uzbekistan is the first Central Asian country with which we have formalized such a human-rights dialogue," Ferrero Waldner said. "And the release of a number of human-rights defenders in Uzbekistan -- that was a positive sign, and that encourages us for further moves in the future."

The United States, too, had strongly condemned Uzbekistan over its handling of Andijon. The criticism came at a price to Washington, as Tashkent demanded that U.S. forces leave the Karshi-Khanabad military base in southern Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan also appears to be softening its tone toward the United States and the West, although the country's leadership remains publicly cozy with Moscow.

...And Responding In Kind

Tashkent has also hosted a number of Western delegations over the past year. President Karimov signaled his government's willingness for rapprochement with the West in a speech last year.

"In its foreign policy, Uzbekistan has always wanted and supported maintaining mutually beneficial cooperation -- based on mutual respect -- and relationships with all its close and far neighbors, including the U.S. and Europe," Karimov said, "and we will never change this course."

The public tone from Tashkent has clearly softened, since previous comments in the wake of Andijon were openly defiant of attempts by the international community to pressure Uzbekistan to allow an independent investigation. In March 2007, Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov boasted that EU sanctions "are not bothering us," adding, "We do not have to explain ourselves."

The Uzbek government recently agreed to allow more NATO forces to use Uzbek military facilities in the southern town of Termez, including a military base where German forces have been stationed since 2001.

Regional experts say the urge to diversify its energy sources are one reason the European Union has sought to strengthen ties with Tashkent.

Robert Templer, the director of Asia Programs at the International Crisis Group (IGC), told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that the West will be unable to secure Uzbek gas or establish a genuine rapport with Tashkent for as long as Karimov is in power.

Uzbekistan has natural gas -- although deposits are far smaller than in neighboring Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan -- but most of its gas reserves have been pledged to Russia.

Russian oil giant LUKoil has already invested a reported $500 million in Uzbekistan, and last month the company announced its intention to invest a further $5.5 billion there.

Templer said that "history shows that making concessions will not work with leaders like Karimov." He argued that the West should take a much more assertive stance with Uzbekistan if it wants to improve its position in Central Asia in the long run.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service and RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier contributed to this report