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Qishloq Ovozi

Under the new law, newspapers would have to seek approval for their texts in times of crisis.
RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, Azattyq, reports that Kazakhstan’s media has new regulations it must follow in times of crisis. If the country finds itself in a state of emergency, experiencing moments of great uncertainty, when the people of the nation will most need news, media outlets will have to observe a break (or brake) on delivering information about what is happening.

That is due to a new rule, made public at the start of April that sets new rules for publishing or broadcasting information after a state of emergency has been declared in Kazakhstan.

The new rules obligate owners of media outlets -- print, radio, or television -- to hand over texts of their reports to the local "komendatura," the officials in charge of preserving order during a state of emergency, 24 hours before the reports are published or broadcast.

If those local authorities find problems in any reports they can halt the airing or publication of the report.

If the report is disseminated without approval and is found to be unsuitable, the komendatura can order the “offending” media outlet to suspend its activities.

It effectively gives state media a monopoly on the dissemination of information during an emergency situation.

Tamara Kaleeva, the head of Kazakhstan’s independent media rights organization Adil Soz, told Azattyq one reason for the new regulations provide a legal basis for preventing information from getting out about unrest in Kazakhstan.

She pointed out during the violence in the western Kazakh city of Zhanaozen in December 2011 that left 17 people dead, authorities had to justify shutting down media, suspending Internet access, and cutting off mobile phone service.

Kaleeva also said the new rules are a response to recent events in Ukraine, where three months of protests led to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Learning The Wrong Lessons

That is the classic reaction of Central Asian governments to unrest nearby, certainly to social upheaval in the CIS.

When neighboring governments experience social unrest, Central Asian governments traditionally do not look at the roots of the problems -- social inequality, unemployment, state corruption -- and seek to cure these deficiencies in their own countries.

Instead, the Central Asian governments try to determine which legislative gaps and security slip-ups allowed social unrest to start. Then they take measures to ensure the same “mistakes” cannot be repeated in their countries.

Just look at any of the major unrest in Kyrgyzstan in the last 10 years and then look at the new amendments, rules, and regulations passed in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan in the weeks that followed. New restrictions are placed on freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and more authority is given to law enforcement agencies, among other changes.

On that note, Kazakhstan is not the only Central Asian country to have acted in the wake of events in Ukraine.

RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Radio Ozodi, reported at the start of March that a new rule went into effect in the Tajik capital Dushanbe.

Officials went in search of people who had spare tires at their homes (besides the one spare tire every car should have). Those possessing old spare tires, or a suspicious number of spare tires, were ordered to take the tires to an area 40 kilometers outside the capital and leave them there.

No Maidan bonfire in Dushanbe.
-- Bruce Pannier. Kazis Toguzbaev and Assem Tokaeva of RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service and Salimjon Aioubov and Tohir Safarov of RFE/RL’s Tajik Service helped in the preparation of this report.
A migrating bank of the Amu-Darya river
Long-awaited help has been promised for the Turkmen of the Qarqeen area in northern Afghanistan and RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, Azatlyk, can claim some credit for that.

Azatlyk recently did extensive reporting on the plight of Turkmen on the Afghan side of the border, their problems with militants, with Turkmenistan’s border guards, and security forces, and with the river that divides the Turkmen people.

The appeals from the people of Qarqeen district in Jowzjan Province had previously gone unheeded, especially those being made to their neighbors -- the ethnic Turkmen of Turkmenistan.

The governor of Afghanistan’s northern Jowzjan Province, which borders Turkmenistan, contacted Azatlyk to say he had been in touch with officials from Turkmenistan.

Speaking to Azatlyk by telephone on April 3, Governor Baymyrat Goyunly said Turkmenistan’s consul-general contacted him a few days earlier. The official told the governor that a team from Turkmenistan would be sent to assess how best to solve one of Qarqeen’s biggest problems -- the migrating river.

The flow of that river, the Amu-Darya, has been eating away the bank on the Afghan side of the border for decades, extending Turkmenistan’s territory at the expense of the people in the Qarqeen district.

Qarqeen’s Turkmen told Azatlyk in February and March that they hoped Turkmenistan would renew help to reinforce the Afghan bank of the Amu-Darya and stop the loss of precious Afghan agricultural land.

Turkmenistan suspended such help several years ago and the results have been disastrous for Qarqeen’s residents, many of whom have fled farther south into the inhospitable desert.

Goyunly said he requested the consul-general to send the team from Turkmenistan to Qarqeen and the Khamyab district to the west, where the situation is the same, after the April 5 presidential election.

Azatlyk’s correspondent in Jowzjan reported another positive development.

The "mistreated" Afghan Turkmen also complained just last month to Azatlyk that they were in danger of being beaten, detained, or imprisoned by Turkmenistan’s border guards and security forces if they went to the islands that have emerged in the Amu-Darya as the river has shifted. The Afghan Turkmen wish to graze their cattle on these islands, which they say was once part of Afghanistan and where their villages were located.

Azatlyk’s Jowzjan correspondent reported that Turkmenistan’s border guards have recently given Afghan Turkmen permission to graze their cattle on the islands with the understanding they cannot set foot on Turkmenistan’s bank of the Amu-Darya.

This sudden change in the situation along the Turkmen-Afghan border came after Afghan President Hamid Karzai hosted a Norouz celebration in Kabul on March 26.

Several regional leaders attended. Turkmenistan was represented by longtime Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov. The Afghan Turkmen sent a delegation of 50 elders, including some elders from Qarqeen, to meet with Meredov in Kabul.

Sources who attended the talks told Azatlyk that Meredov promised those Turkmen elders that Turkmenistan would help them construct barriers along the river bank.

Obviously a huge amount of credit for the change in fortune of Qarqeen’s Turkmen goes to these elders who made the long trip to the capital.

But Governor Goyunly said the first phone call he made after speaking with Turkmenistan’s general consul was a latenight conversation with the Azatlyk correspondent who has been instrumental in getting the region’s story out to the world.

And the governor was happy to speak by phone with Azatlyk in Prague a couple of days later to answer some follow-up questions.

And of course, we here at RFE/RL in Prague know some of Turkmenistan’s government officials have been listening to us, and keeping track of what we say, for many years now.* So someone in Ashgabat has undoubtedly heard what Azatlyk has been reporting recently about the ethnic Turkmen in Jowzjan, Faryab, and Baghdis provinces.

Now the wait begins to see if promises become reality. But at least the people in Qarqeen district have hope that their most basic wishes might soon come true.

-- Bruce Pannier with contributions from Muhammad Tahir of RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service

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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 the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

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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