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Qishloq Ovozi

Homeless Turkmen Woman And Child Desperate For Help
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In eastern Turkmenistan's Lebap Province, there is a girl named "Justice" who lives in a place called "Independence."

Sounds like the start to a heart-warming story. Unfortunately, her story just gets worse.

Before we go to a courtyard in "Independence," there is something worth noting about Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan has the fourth-largest reserves of natural gas in the world. The country currently is exporting some 40 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas, but that amount is likely to top 70 bcm in the next 10 years. Turkmenistan sells gas to customers Iran and China at prices lower than usual world rates, but the roughly 30 bcm exported to those two countries should still bring the country at least $10 billion annually. Add in the volumes sold to Russia (at a higher price than to Iran or China) and the figure should be closer to $15 billion.

The population of Turkmenistan is about 5.5 million. So gas sales amount to a bit less than $3,000 per person. The average salary in Turkmenistan is less than $100 per month.

Now let's go to "Independence."

Adalat ("Justice" in Turkmen) Hemdemova is a young mother with a 4-month-old baby. She lives in the town of Garashsyzlyk ("Independence" in Turkmen).

Adalat and her baby live on the street, or more specifically, in a courtyard.

Adalat is unemployed and says is her husband is too. He never appears in the video that RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, filmed about Adalat.

Asked where she resided before finding herself living under the open sky, Adalat points to a door right next to her and says her mother-in-law lives there and she once lived inside also. "My mother-in-law locked it," Adalat says.

Clearly there are some family problems here, but the point of Azatlyk's report was not how this young woman came to be living in a courtyard but rather why there appear to be no social services capable of providing help to people in Adalat's situation.

Adalat's mother appears in the Azatlyk video. She says she couldn't take her daughter and grandchild in where she lives because she herself is living in a one-room flat with a "sibling."

Adalat and her mother say they have been to the mayor's office and the district administration "10 or 15 times" seeking state help. On one recent visit to the district administration building, Adalat's mother says she tried to explain "with tears in my eyes" how desperate her daughter' plight was and she pleaded for help.

"They kicked us out and said: 'You live wherever you live,'" Adalat's mother says. Adalat's mother seems genuinely distressed in the video, lamenting how difficult it is to see her daughter and grandchild living in their current conditions and being unable to do anything much to relieve the situation.

She says she previously asked for a plot of land but was refused.

Still, all there is in the video is their side of the story, and again, there are key details here that are missing.

But in checking Adalat's story, Azatlyk hit a nerve in the local administration.

The district administration knows who Adalat is and what her current condition is, although the person Azatlyk spoke with at the district administration said Adalat's claims were simply a "lie."

The second time Azatlyk called, the person hung up.

After Azatlyk aired and posted the first report about Adalat, a representative from the district administration approached the correspondent reporting on Adalat's case.

This representative said that if Azatlyk would cease publicizing Adalat's situation the district administration would help her and her child.

So far, there have been no signs that officials have moved to assist the young mother.

I mentioned above that Turkmenistan should be taking in some $15 billion for gas exports annually and that will increase substantially once all four planned gas pipelines to China are operational.

It is no secret that very little of that money goes into improving living standards in Turkmenistan, and that includes allotments for social services.

That said, Adalat notes she is feeding her "family" with the money the state provides for the baby.

Beyond that, there appears to be little that the state can or is willing to do for someone like Adalat.

I could write pages about where the gas revenues go, but it is enough to recall the articles on Qishloq Ovozi about Turkmenistan hosting the international windsurfing championship at the Awaza resort on the Caspian Sea.

The point of those pieces was to show how money is spent in Turkmenistan.

Adalat is an example of the consequences.

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Azatlyk has received hundreds of comments on its Facebook page after reporting on Adalat. Qishloq Ovozi is sharing three of these:

Nargiza Nergiz Samedova no matter whom you beg no one is going to help you, take in your grandchildren and send your daughter to turkey to work, you have no other option, the president is not stupid, he won't help you, he is busy celebrating his birthday party and paying billions of dollars to artists [performers].

Aslı Melek her mom probably has a home, she should take her daughter in, and her husband should use his brain and find something to do. What is this, instead of blaming the state, make some effort.

Yaşar Arslan (responding to Asli Melek) what a terrific thoughts, but I worked in Turkmenistan for 10 years as a journalist, I am sorry to say this, there are lots of similar examples in Turkmenistan, you are talking as if you don't know anything about them, if this woman goes to mayor's office today asking for work, she will be told to pay USD 500-1000 and here is your work, sorry to say this, but the state of Turkmenistan is soaked in corruption from top to the bottom.

-- Bruce Pannier, with assistance from Muhammed Tahir, director of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

A video grab allegedly shows Islamic State (IS) militants waving a jihadist flag at Mosul Dam on the Tigris River.

As if there were not enough militant problems for Central Asia already, some sources suggest the Islamic militant group currently dominating world headlines is also Central Asia’s greatest extremist challenge.

There has not yet been any indication Islamic State (IS) is in any position to threaten Central Asia, but there have been some statements of support for IS from militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and these latter groups are on Central Asia’s doorstep.

What kind of a threat does IS represent to Central Asia and what conditions could allow the group to become a genuine menace to the region?

That was the topic of a roundtable discussion (audio recording below) hosted by RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, Azatlyk, and moderated by service director Muhammad Tahir.

Participants in the discussion were: Casey Michel, author of many recent articles about Central Asia, including “Moscow Hypes the Central Asia Jihadist Threat”; Alisher Sidikov, the head of RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, who has reported extensively on militant groups in Central Asia (and close by); Abubakar Siddique, chief editor of RFE/RL's Gandhara website and author of the recently published book “The Pashtun Question, The Unresolved Key to the Future of Pakistan and Afghanistan”; and, as usual, I said a few things also.

Tahir asked the panelists where are these warnings about an IS threat to Central Asia coming from.

Michel pointed to Russia as a primary supplier of fuel to Central Asia’s fears. Michel cited a recent interview on the website UzNews.net with Yevgeny Satanovsky. The interview starts by saying, “The catastrophic wave of violence at the hands of the Islamic State will repeat itself in Afghanistan and then move on to Central Asia, forecasts the president of the Russian Institute for the Middle East Studies.”

Michel said it is part of a Kremlin campaign to whip up concern in Central Asia. The great publicity the IS has generated has, Michel said, “allowed Moscow to capitalize and they have allowed the [Russian] media as well as [Russian] think tank individuals and certain security officials to portray Islamic State as this massive bogeyman...coming for every Central Asian state.”

It might be working, too. The leaders of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan both made references to the IS in their recent Independence Day addresses to their people. All five of the Central Asian leaders also attended the CIS summit in Minsk earlier this month. That does not happen very often. Tajik President Emomali Rahmon even called for a common CIS strategy to confront IS at the Minsk summit.

Ample reporting exists to show some Central Asians who have traveled to Syria are in the ranks of IS.

Many of these Central Asians, as Uzbek Service chief Sidikov noted, actually were in Russia as migrant laborers and became radicalized, or were simply recruited by the IS on the promise of better pay and a chance to wage jihad. “We see that the majority of militants from Uzbekistan in Syria basically traveled from Russia to Turkey and then into Syria and Iraq,” Sidikov said.

Sidikov also said there could be some contact between IS and Central Asia’s primary militant group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The IMU recently said it “supports” the IS goal of creating an Islamic caliphate but stopped short of saying it was willing to merge with IS.

Sidikov pointed out that the IMU has been active in Afghanistan and Pakistan for well over a decade now and has learned to avoid the sophisticated war machines of Western nations as well as how to attack better-armed opponents. It would be useful knowledge for a group that is already facing attacks from warplanes and drones.

The tradeoff could be financing, since the IMU doesn’t have the same access to funding that IS currently enjoys.

Gandhara chief editor Siddique agreed there was a possibility of increased contact between IS and the IMU and also between IS and some militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas.

But Siddique explained that as concerns Afghanistan, “the IS caliphate is in a direct clash with the Islamic caliphate that Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, announced a long time ago.”

Besides the Taliban there is Al-Qaeda, which regards Pakistan’s tribal areas as its birthplace. Siddique pointed to Al-Qaeda’s recent creation of a group to take jihad to India as proof al-Qaeda is interested in expanding its territory and influence, and Siddique mentioned that the terror group’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is “clearly opposed to the Islamic State.”

But most importantly, Siddique explained that IS is essentially an Arab movement with its religious roots in the orthodox Islam of the Arabian Peninsula.

Other panelists followed this thought, commenting that Central Asians, while Sunni Muslims, practice a slightly different version of Islam. Central Asia is the birthplace of Sufism, for example, and in the eyes of IS, Sufis are heretics.

All the panelists agreed that the strongest appeal IS could have for the people of Central Asia would be the militant group’s potential to topple the unpopular and unjust regimes of Central Asia.

The same Central Asian governments that now warn of the danger of IS might be creating an environment that would help the Arab extremist group gain supporters in Central Asia.

The continued repression in Central Asia of opposition groups, the suspicion with which the Central Asian governments treat the pious Muslims of the region, and the poverty, inequality, and injustice the people of the region are enduring could drive some to put their trust in an outside Islamic group promising change.

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Casey Michel is a graduate student at Columbia University's Harriman Institute, focusing on Eurasian political, energy, and security development. He's written for "Foreign Policy," "The Atlantic," "The Moscow Times," and Al-Jazeera, and has worked with International Crisis Group in Bishkek. He's always looking for birding tips in Central Asia. Follow him on Twitter at @cjcmichel.

News from Alisher Sidikov and the RFE/RL Uzbek Service can be found athttp://www.ozodlik.org/

Abubakr Siddique’s critically acclaimed book is on sale and his Gandhara website can be found at http://gandhara.rferl.org/

News from Muhammed Tahir and the RFE/RL Turkmen Service can be found athttp://www.azathabar.com/

-- Bruce Pannier

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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