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Qishloq Ovozi

According to a release from the Kremlin's press service on March 10, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev was supposed to make an unexpected visit to Moscow on March 10 and 11. Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported early March 10, "Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev will pay an official two-day visit to Russia on an invitation from his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday, the Kremlin said in a statement." The statement continued, "Putin and Nazarbaev are expected to hold talks on Tuesday."

But Nazarbaev never showed up and the Kazakh president's press spokesman Yerzhan Nukezhanov told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, Azattyq, on March 11 Nazarbaev had no plans to go to Moscow and this information was distributed by the Russian president's administration.

News that Nazarbaev was heading to Moscow was strange from the start. He was just there on March 5 to meet with Putin and Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to discuss the three countries' CIS Customs Union/Eurasian Economic Community.

On the evening of March 10, Russian and Kazakh news agencies reported Nazarbaev and Putin had spoken by telephone. The main topic of the conversation was Ukraine and Crimea and reportedly Nazarbaev said he "understands the position of assumed by Russia, which is defending the interests of ethnic minorities in Ukraine, as well as its own security interests."

It must have been an uncomfortable discussion for Nazarbaev since parts of Kazakhstan were incorporated into the Russian empire in the mid-18th Century, just like Crimea was. And the "ethnic minorities" referred to in reports were almost surely Russians in Crimea. A significant percentage of Kazakhstan's current population is ethnic Russian/Slavic and like Crimea, most of Kazakhstan's ethnic Russians live in areas near the border with Russia.

Following the telephone conversation with Putin, Nazarbaev had two more discussions: one with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and another with U.S. President Barack Obama.

According to the Kazinform news agency, Nazarbaev "confirmed the importance of finding a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian crisis through dialogue between all interested parties" in his conversation with Merkel.

Reports said Obama encouraged Nazarbaev to play an active role in finding a peaceful outcome for Ukraine.

March 11 came and Nazarbaev never arrived to meet with Putin in Moscow and Nazarbaev's spokesman Nukezhanov told Azattyq that Putin's invitation was for a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Community and there was no need to go since the meeting happened last week.

So the Kremlin's press service made a mistake about a visit from the Kazakh president?

When was the last time the Kremlin's press office made a mistake about a visit from a head of state from another CIS country?

When was any time the Kremlin's press office made such a mistake?

Merhat Sharipzhan of the RFE/RL's Central Newsroom and Yerzhan Karabek of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service helped in preparing this report.
An Uzbek flea market in the Ferghana region (file photo)
As it says up there in the right-hand corner, Qishloq Ovozi is a forum that also allows readers to get acquainted with up-and-coming experts in the field of Central Asian studies.

This time, we present the knowledgeable Emily Canning and her review of a new book about Central Asia titled "Restless Valley Revolution Murder and Intrigue in the Heart of Central Asia," by Phillip Shishkin, who spent 10 years as a correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal."

Emily Canning is a doctoral candidate at Brandeis University currently writing her dissertation on language and ethnic identity in southern Kyrgyzstan. She conducted 20 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Osh, which culminated in a Fulbright Fellowship from August 2012 to June 2013.

She is also a member of CESMI (top entry under “Sites We Like”).


Book Review for "Restless Valley: Revolution, Murder, And Intrigue in The Heart Of Central Asia" by Philip Shishkin


To introduce his chronicle of recent events in the Ferghana Valley, journalist Philip Shishkin asks readers to “imagine a region so rife with tensions and intrigue” that it contains the elements of a “thriller” stranger than fiction: murder, massacres, drugs, and “corruption schemes so brazen...they would be hard to invent.” (ix) The work delivers in its promise, painting a dramatic portrait of Central Asia’s “heart.” For a general reader, one’s interest in the region becomes vindicated. Scholars, however, face a dilemma. Is it worth fanning the flames of Central Asia’s “discourse of danger” to generate greater interest in this understudied and increasingly underfunded region? Although I address the book’s glossing-over of issues that merit a more nuanced approach, "Restless Valley" nevertheless fills important lacunae in the sparse literature on these subjects. While not every monograph that fuels fear-inducing rhetoric benefits the study of Central Asia, "Restless Valley’s" capacity to elevate enthusiasm for the region ultimately outweighs its flaws.

Shishkin’s enthusiasm and expertise is palpable throughout his stories. Those episodes that he does not recount directly from his own experience, he gleans from interviews and research. Claiming the Ferghana Valley as his locus, he chronologically recounts tumultuous episodes from recent history: Kyrgyzstan’s revolutions, heroin smuggling in Afghanistan, the Andjian massacre and human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, money-laundering schemes in Bishkek, and the June 2010 violence in southern Kyrgyzstan. Given that the area in question is no larger than the state of California and the time period merely a decade, the intensity of the episodes make the region appear especially “hot.” On the other hand, this dynamism is confounded by the author’s simultaneous characterization of the region as evocative of the “Middle Ages” or “frozen in time.” (60) Although the author invokes the medieval era to describe Afghanistan’s lack of infrastructure and a time capsule to convey Tajikistan’s Soviet kitsch, such depictions are nevertheless redolent of “Silk Road” travel writing.

Most chapters remain thrilling and informative, but the one that lent its title “Restless Valley” to the book leaves the most to be desired. By focusing on the murder of Maktybek Suleimanov, a Kyrgyz policeman who was killed in Bazar Korgon during the violence, in conjunction with the plight of Uzbek human rights defender Azimjan Askarov, who unjustly languishes in prison for the policeman’s death, Shishkin personalizes the violence with a human face. We can see photos of Suleimanov’s parents and vividly imagine Askarov’s brutal treatment at the hands of local police. However, this vignette gives us only a narrow frame of a much larger picture in which several hundred people died and thousands of homes were destroyed. The author largely ignores the events in Osh, the epicenter of the violence, only recounting a discussion with the town’s Russian Orthodox priest well before the fighting began in June.

Though the portraits in the “Restless Valley” chapter allow readers to grasp the complexities of competing narratives between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, the causes of the conflict are insufficiently explored. For instance, Shishkin quotes 19th-century Russian orientalist Vladimir Nalivkin at length. Nalivkin describes Kyrgyz and Uzbeks as harboring historically deep disdain for one another, which is rooted in their settler versus nomadic modes of production. This ethnographic anecdote makes more recent historical developments appear primordially legitimized. While characterizing the border-drawing of the 1920s as Stalin’s personal project, he neglects the Soviet role in entrenching previously murky or nonexistent ethnic affiliations by referring to the Soviet era as a “big melting pot” where “distinctions became blurred, and a relative calm in interethnic relations held sway for decades.” (237) This assessment following Nalivkin’s observation seems to imply that the Soviets brought order to Central Asia’s inherent instability and that it was only upon the Union’s dissolution that their wild natures reemerged. Shishkin concedes that political and economic disparities between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks contributed to the violence, but his depictions of ethnic differences seem to, as Madeleine Reeves wrote, “ethnicize” the conflict rather than pinpoint the stark intraethnic, as well as interethnic, inequalities underlying its outbreak.

Although scholars would tell these stories in the timbres of their own disciplinary style, ultimately Shishkin deserves accolade for his compelling rendition. Ethnographers focus more on mundane moments of daily life, providing a valuable context for understanding a place but lacking the sexiness that sells. Thus my own perspective as an anthropologist living in Osh for two years, including during the June 2010 violence, is that tranquility triumphs over intrigue. In fact, I would argue that everyday life in the Ferghana Valley is less chaotic, and even less violent, than life in the United States. Yet as long as we who write about the region do justice to our interlocutors by faithfully rendering their stories as they tell them, our readers can ultimately decide which version of Central Asia they choose to imagine: one mired in perpetual chaos or one steeped in a calming pot of chai on the tapchan. After all, perhaps there is truth in both tranquility and intrigue.

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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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