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Central Asia's 10 Most Influential (And Connected) Women

One can criticize Central Asian governments for many things -- from corruption to their intractably undemocratic ways. But perhaps due more than anything to the Soviet legacy, women in that predominantly Muslim region participate in politics, business, and other spheres of public life.

That said, while some of the following 10 picks for most influential women in Central Asia have risen to the top solely on their merits, there are more than a few whose family ties have paved the way to success.


Roza Otunbaeva: president of Kyrgyzstan


Roza Otunbaeva stepped into the breach to become interim president after the whirlwind exit of Kurmanbek Bakiev in April 2010. She then led the country through a turbulent three months -- including deadly ethnic violence in the ousted president's southern stronghold, as well as a pivotal referendum on Kyrgyzstan's interim leadership and constitutional changes to dilute the presidency -- before being sworn in on July 3 for a one-and-done term that ends in December 2011. The Moscow-educated former diplomat is Central Asia's first and only female president. A mother of two who played a major role in the 2005 Tulip Revolution that provided a beacon of hope in the region, she has served as her country's ambassador to Britain and the United States, as well as foreign minister.


Dinara Kulibaeva: Kazakh president's second daughter


Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's second-born daughter, Dinara Kulibaeva, is the only Central Asian woman to have appeared on the "Forbes" list of world billionaires, with an estimated net worth of $1.3 billion. She is thought to be the fourth-richest individual in the country. "Forbes" lists "banking" as the source of Kulibaeva's wealth, with reports that she owns shares in HalykBank, but little is publicly known about her business activities. She is married to Timur Kulibaev, the head of Samruk-Kazyna, a state holding that controls major sectors of the Kazakh economy, including in the energy, gold, and uranium sectors. A graduate of the Institute of Theater Arts in Moscow, Kulibaeva is the head of the president's Education Foundation, which among other things, provides financial support to students from impoverished homes.


Svetlana Ortikova: chairwoman of Uzbek Senate's Committee for Legislative and Judiciary Issues


A lawyer by profession, the Uzbek Senate's Committee for Legislative and Judiciary Issues chairwoman, Svetlana Ortikova, formerly served as a senior prosecutor and headed the information and communication division of the Uzbekistan Prosecutor-General's Office, in addition to other senior posts. She is one of a small handful of high-ranking officials in Tashkent who grant interviews to international media. Ortikova reportedly belongs to what's sometimes dubbed a "siloviki" grouping that enjoys considerable influence in policymaking and brings together top officials from the security, customs, and tax services.


Akja Nurberdyeva: speaker of Turkmenistan's parliament


Since taking over the leadership of the parliament in February 2007, Akja Nurberdyeva has taken steps to open up her isolationist, energy-rich country to the rest of the world, including organizing exchange trips by Turkmen lawmakers to the European Union. Nurberdyeva made her way to the top through Komsomol, the communist youth organization, and a range of government posts. People who know Nurberdyeva well suggest she is one of very few people in positions of power in Turkmenistan who understand the need for change but are prevented from action by loyalty to the regime.


Lola Karimova: presidential daughter, Uzbek ambassador to UNESCO


The Uzbek president's youngest daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, controls a business empire that is said to include several major consumer-goods markets in Uzbekistan, the Abu Sahiy Nur market with a daily turnover of at least $250,000 among them. She is currently Tashkent's ambassador to UNESCO. Karimova-Tillyaeva is rumored to be much closer to her father than her older sister Gulnara. The loyal daughter unsuccessfully sued a French publication for calling her father a "dictator."


Gaukhar 'Goga' Ashkenazi: London-based Kazakh oligarch


The Oxford-educated, London-based Goga Ashkenazi has attributed her success to hard work and being in the right place at the right time. She is founder and CEO of private Kazakh oil and gas company MunaiGaz Engineering Group, and is director of the MMG Global Consulting Group, which deals with investment into Kazakhstan. In an interview last year, Ashkenazi said that gold mining in Kazakhstan was her latest venture. She claims she made her first business deals in Kazakhstan in 2003, using her family contacts with people in "positions of power." Ashkenazi has never publicly disclosed how much she is worth. Her reported affair with Timur Kulibaev, the Kazakh president's son-in-law and a powerful businessman in his own right, led to the birth of a son. She's also a fixture on the British social scene, spurred in part by her friendship with Prince Andrew.


Gulnara Karimova: Uzbek diplomat, businesswoman, and presidential daughter


Uzbek President Islam Karimov's eldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova, is known for her passion for entrepreneurship, jewelry-making, fashion, and music. She currently serves as Uzbekistan's ambassador to Spain and its permanent representative to the UN office and other international organizations in Geneva. Karimova has in the past been tipped as her father's possible successor. She has also been linked to the Swiss-based company Zeromax, with holdings in Uzbekistan's energy, agriculture, and construction sectors that made it the country's largest private-sector employer until 2010, when assets were said to have been seized; but she has never publicly acknowledged any ties to the company.


Tahmina Rahmonova: Tajik entrepreneur, presidential daughter


The business empire of Tajik presidential daughter Tahmina Rahmonova (left in photo) reportedly includes a string of trade centers, restaurants, and real estate. But unlike first daughters in neighboring Uzbekistan, Tahmina keeps a low profile and rarely appears at public functions. Unlike the Karimova daughters, she has no website, doesn't take part in charity events, and doesn't give interviews. Rahmonova's critics, including the bas.tj website, claim the president's daughter strikes fear in Tajik businessmen, who've heard reports that she appropriates successful businesses or land parcels that strike her fancy.


Mutabar Tojiboeva: Uzbek human rights activist


The government in Tashkent has long been wary of Mutabar Tojiboeva (right in photo), an outspoken critic of the regime. The human rights activist has been imprisoned for "slandering government bodies," but the punishment failed to silence her. She has been honored with the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in Geneva and the International Women of Courage Award in Washington. According to a purported U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, Uzbek President Islam Karimov has expressed his discontent with the U.S. decision to honor Tojiboeva. Karimov, the cable suggested, "seemed especially angry that Tojiboeva might be seen as a political figure in her own right being cultivated to challenge him."


Ozoda Rahmonova: deputy Tajik foreign minister, presidential daughter


President Rahmon appointed his Georgetown-educated daughter, Ozoda, as deputy foreign minister in 2009, but she is rumored to wield far more power than the minister because of her familial connection to his boss. One of nine siblings, Rahmonova is the only one of the president's children currently to hold public office. She is married to Deputy Finance Minister Jamollidin Nuraliev, who has denied reports linking him to a private company that controls Tajikistan's only toll road.

-- Farangis Najibullah
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Jenna
August 03, 2011 10:06
You can tell who is self-made and who was given everything on a silver platter.
In Response

by: Super Spy
August 04, 2011 11:43
No one is self-made. The peoples of the countries will be tired soon and the Islamist uprising will come up handy. The communist dynasties will fall.
In Response

by: Sagdian from: London
August 30, 2011 12:44
Islamic uprising should be the last thing in these countries. They are still young and if it comes to that I can guarantee that they will be next Afghanistan or end up HANGING everyone for their views publicly like Iran.

Everyone should speak out of their country's benefit not their own however strong Muslim you are

by: Seidkazi from: Ma Wara An-Nahr
August 03, 2011 14:14
At least half of the women on this list (the two Karimova's and Rakhmonovas, Ortikova, ... ) are living proof that, contrary to what mothballed feminists often claim, women in power are not more caring, more reasonable, less corrupt, less wicked and less rapacious than men are. Often on the contrary.
In Response

by: Super Spy
August 04, 2011 11:45
Women in power are less capable of doing the rational things and I am not talking here about Obama.
In Response

by: abcd
August 11, 2011 21:53
????
There are plenty of men in power who act irrationally.
But, I agree with Seidkazi that women are fully capable of being corrupt.

by: Alidad from: Madrid
August 05, 2011 11:29
"Rapacious" is a key word here, as mentioned by Seidkazi. The article reads like the investment and promotional supplements they sometimes have in the International Herald Tribune; the presidential wives/daughters remind one of Tunisia's Laila Trabelsi.
In Response

by: Seidkazi from: Ma Wara An-Nahr
August 05, 2011 12:42
Les us have a though and much respect for the numerous Central Asian women who suffer under the regimes in which the Karimovas and Rakhmonovas play a key role.

There are good alternatives:
http://www.khilafah.com/index.php/the-khilafah/social-system/387-an-introduction-to-the-social-system

by: Dana from: Kazakhstan
August 08, 2011 14:36
I'm not sure how influential these women are (except Roza Otumbaeva), because they have no their own opinion. Just follow fathers/lovers' policy. They are not popular at all and cannot lead other CAR women. They do not play social model role. Just have some positions. Roza Otumbaeva is a politician only.

by: Colleen from: USA
August 08, 2011 20:10
Too many wives and daughters of powerful men.
How about Camilla Sharshekeva of Kyrgyzstan who has worked tirelessly for education for many years? Among other accomplishments started the school that has become the American University in Kyrgyzstan. Although she must, like all of us, have a father and I know she's married, her accomplishments are all her own.

by: Takhmina from: USA
August 09, 2011 13:52
The Author and RFERL - shame on you for putting female human rights activists in Central Asia who risk their lives and freedom everyday in the same article as daughters and relatives of dictators and rulers. The latter enjoy the abundant fruits of their families' ties and influence at the expense of their countries' and people's welfare. The title and content of the article are inappropriate especially for a publication like RFERL, which positions itself as pro-human rights and free press in Central Asia. It would serve better purpose to showcase more real women who actually do meaningful work in Central Asia. For funding that you get from government sources and grants you need to do some due diligence and research to write about what matters to Central Asian people instead of tabloid journalism.

by: one of CAsian from: somewhere
August 15, 2011 11:51
What a list- are you afraid to call them the most corrupt and the most greedy women of Central Asia. Why not to write the truth?

Hm, influential- they can buy everybody.

Indeed, why Mutabar"s name on this shame list of CA?

Uzbek President Islam Karimov's eldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova, is known for her passion

for entrepreneurship-she is a mafiosi-stolen other people's businesses ,
jewelry-making?, fashion?,
and music-she is the most disgusted singer in UZB. She does not have any talent but still keeps it up what means that Harvard educated is stupid enough.
She currently serves as Uzbekistan's ambassador to Spain -so what???
Yes, Uzbekistan airways fly to Madrid now-thats all!

and its permanent representative to the UN office and other international organizations in Geneva. And so what UZB gained from this???
They dont give a s...t for UZB and people-they use national reserves and uzbek people to become more rich and BTW Europeans also do not give a s...t for the fact that all these bunch of noveau oligarhs are corrupt etc

Alah is great -their end will come soon.

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