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Given the assurances given about the currency last summer, it's no surprise that many Kazakhs are apprehensive about the coming privatization of the country's most valuable industries and businesses.

On July 15, 2015, Kazakhstan's national currency, the tenge, was valued at around 187 tenges to the U.S. dollar. That was the day that the chairman of Kazakhstan's central bank, Kairat Kelimbetov, announced that bank authorities were widening the currency's trading band so the tenge would float between 170 and 198 to the U.S. dollar.

Kelimbetov said the exchange corridor would allow the tenge to "fluctuate independently" and therefore "answer the challenges in the coming six to 12 months." He said it was a "happy medium" for Kazakhstan's economy. In August, the bank announced a devaluation of the tenge and the rate fell precipitously.

On January 12, 2016, less than six months after Kelimbetov announced the widening of the currency band, the tenge's exchange rate was around 370 to the U.S. dollar.

Faced with economic hardships not seen since the 1990s, Kazakhstan is now moving to privatize its biggest enterprises, including the state oil and gas company, the state nuclear company, the railroad company, the national postal service, and many more of the prize pieces that for more than a decade represented Kazakhstan's economic success. Privatization could potentially bring tens of billions of dollars into Kazakhstan's economy, which is exactly what Kazakh officials are hoping.

Given the assurances the National Bank chairman gave a half-year earlier, it is no surprise that many people in Kazakhstan are apprehensive about the coming privatization of the country's most valuable industries and businesses. Many also remember the results of privatizations in Kazakhstan 20 years ago that made a select few people very wealthy.

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, known locally as Azattyq, interviewed some knowledgeable people in Kazakhstan to get their reaction to the impending privatization.

The president of the Union of Academics, Orazaly Sabden, told Azattyq, "Under the guise of privatization, it is possible that not the people but those people who already have billions will be further enriched." Sabden added that the privatization process "must be fair...[and] it should be transparent -- on television, in the press, everything so the people see they are getting something."

"We've seen other privatizations [and] who gained from them," Sabden recalled, without naming anyone in particular.

The director of the Astana branch of the Institute of Economic Sciences, Zhangeldy Shymshykov, said another problem was that "within the government structures, quasi-state enterprises have appeared recently, and they interfere with the formation of entrepreneurial and competitive conditions."

Shymshykov said state management had been neither motivated nor interested in effective results.

Ordinary citizens shared with Azattyq some of their concerns since the government late last year announced plans for the massive privatization campaign. As Kazakh citizens helplessly watch their purchasing power plunge and some face bankruptcy after they took out loans based on dollar rates during better economic times, many people in the country are afraid this wave of privatization will only benefit those who already have large amounts of money.

Some critics suggest the privatization targets mostly the infrastructure of big state companies and is an attempt by the government to jettison ballast by forcing these companies and enterprises to function as independent businesses.

The fears surrounding privatization are not wholly unfounded. Kazakhstan's large privatization process in the mid-1990s produced many of the richest people in the country today, and some former officials from that time have since fled the country and live comfortably abroad in self-imposed exile.

Azattyq's Svetlana Glushkova and Yerzhan Karabek contributed to this report

Akram Yuldashev Is Dead

Akram Yuldashev allegedly confessed on Uzbekistan’s state-controlled television to organizing the May 2005 protests in Andijon.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, has learned from sources that Akram Yudashev, the imprisoned leader of the Akramiya religious group, died in prison five years ago.

Yuldashev had not been seen since late 2005. International rights groups had repeatedly called on Uzbek authorities to provide information about Yuldashev, his location and condition, but Uzbek authorities routinely ignored these requests.

Ozodlik spoke to sources on January 11 who confirmed Yuldashev had died of tuberculosis in prison some five years ago, though the sources could not provide an exact date or the location of the facility where Yuldashev was being held.

Akram Yuldashev rose to prominence in the mid-1990s as a religious leader in the area around the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon. Yuldshev authored a book titled Iymonga Yol (The Path To Faith) in which Yuldashev related his religious and philosophical ideas. Yuldashev wrote the book after becoming disillusioned with the now-banned Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir and parting ways with the sect.

His stature as a community and religious leader grew in his native Andijon region. During this time, Yuldashev worked as a math teacher and later in a textile plant.

In 1998, he was arrested on charges of narcotics possession and jailed for 30 months. However, he fell under an amnesty instituted by Uzbek authorities some months later and was freed.

On February 16, 1999, a series of bombs exploded in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, regarded as the first-ever terrorist attack in Uzbekistan. Yuldashev was arrested the next day and later tried and convicted of involvement in the Tashkent bombings. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

In the spring of 2005, demonstrations started in Andijon against the jailing of a group of local businessmen. These businessmen were acquaintances of Yuldashev. The appointments of new provincial and city officials some months earlier had upset the established system of patronage in the region and the businessmen had not only lost their enterprises but were in danger of losing their freedom as well.

On May 13, 2005, an armed group crossed from Kyrgyzstan into Uzbekistan, attacked a police station, stole weapons, then went to a prison near Andijon and freed the prisoners. Those prisoners mixed with the demonstrators in Andijon and violence broke out.

Uzbek authorities sent in troops to restore order and a bloodbath ensued.

Authorities blamed a group called Akramiya, followers of the imprisoned Yuldashev, for provoking the violence. Though he had been in prison for some six years, Yuldashev was branded as an instigator of the violence and appeared in court on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.

Yuldashev's trial appearances in late 2005 were the last times anyone outside the government ever saw him. His fate has remained a mystery until now.

In the 10 years since Yuldashev was last seen, his family has tried to get information about Yuldashev's fate. Some members of the family fled to the United States and engaged legal aid and lobbyists to press the Uzbek government to divulge information about their imprisoned kinsman, all without result.

International rights groups such as U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) repeatedly released statements calling on Uzbekistan's government to provide some information about Yuldashev.

HRW's Steve Swerdlow reminded RFE/RL that his organization had issued a report on September 15, 2014, titled Until The Very End, which chronicled the incarcerations of 34 people. Swerdlow said Uzbek authorities provided some information about 33 of those 34 people. Yuldashev was the one person about whom Uzbek officials did not comment.

It now appears all these efforts during the last five years were in vain. The person all the people and groups were seeking information about was dead.

Uzbek authorities have still not commented on Yuldashev's reported death.

Ozodlik's Shukhrat Babajanov contributed to this report

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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.