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Qishloq Ovozi

Uzbek migrant workers in Moscow. (file photo)

Qishloq Ovozi is pleased to welcome Joanna Pares Hoare and her review of a book edited by Marlene Laruelle on the always important topic of migration, both within Central Asia and to destinations outside the region. Joanna's bio is below but her work made its way to the Qishloq via CESMI. Please visit their website.

Laruelle, Marlene, ed. (2013), Migration And Social Upheaval As The Face Of Globalization In Central Asia, Leiden and Boston: Brill

On August 27, 14 young women labor migrants from Kyrgyzstan were killed in a fire at a print works where they worked in Moscow. The tragedy of their deaths brought home the enormous risks facing many labor migrants when they leave their homes to seek work and other opportunities in Russia and elsewhere. In Kyrgyzstan, this tragedy has also prompted much soul-searching and public discussion. What does it mean to be a nation that cannot offer its young people a viable future within its own borders, and has to send them abroad in order to ensure their and their families' survival?

Published three years ago, this edited collection does not seek to answer difficult questions of this sort, brought into such sharp relief by this tragic event in Moscow. It does, however, go a long way toward providing the contextual analysis needed to begin to address them. Divided into four sections -- Flows, Remittances, And Government Policies; Migratory Strategies As Patterns Of Adaptation To Social Upheaval; An Evolving Social Fabric: Mobile National And Individual Identities; and Impact On Gender Relations: Masculinity And Femininity In Flux -- the book presents a series of fascinating studies of the processes, from the micro up to the macro, that are fueling the mass movement of people within and beyond Central Asia.

At the macro level, every chapter includes analysis of the harsh socioeconomic conditions that constitute the principal 'push' factors for migration in the region's three "sending countries" (i.e., countries that send economic migrants abroad) -- Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan -- both from village to city, and outward to Russia, Kazakhstan, and further afield. Given the timing of this book it is not surprising that two chapters look specifically at the effects of the 2008-09 financial crisis on migration and remittance flows.

Drastic Impact

Erica Marat, in her chapter Labor Migration During The 2008-2009 Global Economic Crisis, assesses these effects at the regional level, while Saodat Olimova considers the Tajik situation in To Stay Or Not To Stay: The Global Economic Crisis And Return Migration To Tajikistan. Both conclude that the downturn in the Russian economy had a drastic impact on the level of remittances sent back to the sending countries Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, although remittances had returned to pre-crash levels by 2010-11. However, this was not brought about by a mass return of labor migrants to their home countries (as many experts had predicted would happen), for the simple reason that most could not afford the journey home. In fact, Marat's analysis found that the number of people leaving for Russia actually went up in 2009, as families in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan suffered the effects of the crash on remittances and on domestic economies.

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At the micro level, Nafisa Khusenova's chapter on The Feminization Of Tajik Labor Migration To Russia explores the role of traditional institutions of migration such as avlod (a patrilineal line of descent uniting an extended family, traced back several generations) in Tajikistan in determining who leaves for Russia and when at the level of the extended family. Khusenova also considers the way that women in Tajikistan are now being "pushed" into migrating by difficult socioeconomic conditions, despite the fact that gender norms in Tajikistan mean female migrants face condemnation and disapproval.

Aspirations, Social Status

Elsewhere, in two chapters on migration within and from Uzbekistan, (From Uzbek Qishloq To Tajik Samarkand: Rural Depopulation As A Migration Of Identity and Economic Migrations From Uzbekistan To Moscow, Seoul, And New York: Sacrifice Or Rite Of Passage?), Sophie Massot considers how individual and family aspiration -- for increased social status as well as material gain -- shape the decision to migrate, factors also considered by Stephanie Belouin in her chapter on Projects And Migratory Strategies Of Women Belonging To The Tashkent Intelligentsia.

Interwoven are accounts of the effects of migration from and within this region on these societies, considering a wide range of factors. In her chapter, Sophie Hohmann draws together an assessment of the various impacts of migration on health in Tajikistan, encompassing the heightened risk of labor migrants in Russia contracting HIV and various sexually transmitted diseases, the "brain drain" of doctors from Tajikistan that has left the health system on the point of collapse (a theme taken up again by Khusenova), and internal migration as a factor in poor infant and maternal health outcomes, as young married pregnant women move between village and city and fall between health-care providers.

Madeleine Reeves' fascinating exploration of Migration, Masculinity, And Transformations Of Social Space In The Soh Valley, Uzbekistan "considers ... the way in which migration decisions are shaped by situated understandings of appropriate male and female behavior on the one hand and, on the other, how migration itself becomes constitutive of normative ideas about masculinity and femininity" (p. 308). In a community where the majority of families have at least one person who has migrated, migration affects every aspect of social relations, right down to how a son is seen to be fulfilling his duties toward his parents, and to intimate relations between wives and husbands.

Sense Of Identity

Several chapters deal with the profound effects of migration -- or of the desire to migrate -- on an individual's sense of identity, who they are and where they belong in the world, including those by Adeline Braux (Azerbaijanis In Russia: An Imagined Diaspora?), Luisa Piart (Transition, Migration, Capitalism: Female Uzbek Shuttle Traders In Istanbul), and the chapters by Sophie Massot, Sebastien Peyrouse, and Stephanie Belouin.

The historical context is also given due consideration throughout, reminding the reader that Central Asia has long been a region of migration, voluntary and forced. This has included the seasonal movements of nomadic populations, and the waves of migration from other parts of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

The exodus of "Europeans" from Central Asia in the early 1990s and today's mass movement of migrants from village to city, and to Russia and further afield, are the outcome of these earlier movements, as well as representing their continuation. For instance, one "pull factor" drawing internal migrants to cities in the 1990s was the availability of cheap urban housing that had been vacated by departing Russian-speaking populations. These themes are explored in depth in chapters by Aida Aaly Alymbaeva (Internal Migration In Kyrgyzstan: A Geographical And Sociological Study Of Rural Migration) and Sebastien Peyrouse (Former Colonists On The Move: The Migration Of Russian-Speaking Populations).

As Marlene Laruelle points out in her introduction, Central Asia has until now mainly been overlooked in international studies on migration. This edited collection is an important first step in rectifying that omission, and will also be of great interest to any reader keen to further their understanding of contemporary Central Asian societies.

Joanna Pares Hoare holds a PhD in development studies from School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Her doctoral research considered gender and civil society in Kyrgyzstan, and how these concepts have been shaped and 'operationalized' by international development actors. Currently, she works as a researcher at Amnesty International.
The views expressed in this book review do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

The death of Uzbek President Islam Karimov (center) has brought the issue of succession in neighboring Central Asian countries into sharp focus. Also pictured: Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (left) and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (right)

With the death of Uzbek President Islam Karimov earlier this month, the question of who will succeed Central Asia's other longstanding rulers has come to the fore. (The views expressed on this podcast do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.)

The announcement of Uzbek President Islam Karimov's death at the start of this month seems to have touched off a chain reaction in Central Asia. After years of wondering what the succession processes would look like in the region, we are now getting a glimpse of how these things work.

To look at how these succession schemes are playing out, RFE/RL assembled a Majlis, a panel, to discuss the current efforts being made on behalf of a second head of state.

Moderating the discussion was RFE/RL Media Relations Manager Muhammad Tahir. From Scotland, we were joined by our friend Dr. Luca Anceschi, chair of the Central Asian Studies Center at the University of Glasgow. Participating from Washington was Erica Marat, assistant professor and director of the Homeland Defense Fellowship Program at the College of International Security Affairs of the National Defense University and author of numerous articles on Central Asia. And Bakhtiyor Nishanov, deputy director of Eurasia at the International Republican Institute from Washington D.C., also took part from Washington. I've been waiting for these moments in Central Asia for a couple of decades, so I was in on this also.

The focus of the talk was Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. All three countries took steps related to the position of the second leader of their countries.

The first to move was of course Uzbekistan, driven to action by the death of longtime leader Karimov. Authorities stalled on naming an interim leader in the first days after the September 2 announcement of Karimov's death.

Sidestepping The Constitution

Constitutionally, the powers of the president should have transferred to the chairman of the Senate, Nigmatullo [Nigmatillo] Yuldashev. Instead, at a joint session of parliament on September 8, Yuldashev declined the responsibility and urged that the job go to Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev.

Nishanov noted, "The constitution was specifically amended to prevent this kind of power grab, to prevent the prime minister coming in and just talking over."

Ignoring the constitution in Uzbekistan is nothing new. Authorities there disregarded the two-term presidential limit when Karimov was elected to a third term in 2007 and a fourth term in 2015. In both those cases the seven-year term also expired well before the elections were held.

Nishanov said Uzbekistan has demonstrated "complete disregard for the constitution" in this transition process, which may bode ill for the country's future.

But it's not just Uzbekistan.

Following the death of Turkmen Saparmurat Niyazov in late December 2006, the constitution of Turkmenistan was similarly overlooked. There, too, the chairman of the Senate was constitutionally next in line to take over as acting president. But that person, Ovezgeldy Ataev, was arrested shortly after the official announcement of Niyazov's death and Health Minister Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov was named acting leader.

Berdymukhammedov won the February 2007 presidential election despite a constitutional prohibition on an acting head of state running in such polls.

Authoritarian Agendas

Parliament passed amendments to Turkmenistan's constitution on September 15 that lifted an age limit (70 years) and extended the presidential term from five to seven years, paving the way for Berdymukhammedov to remain in power until he dies.

Anceschi said the constitutions the Central Asian states approved in the early 1990s were "in most cases highly presidential," and he added, "They've [the constitutions] been amended with authoritarian agendas in mind, and that entrenched even further authoritarian politics."

The amendments to Turkmenistan's constitution were passed less than two weeks after Karimov was officially declared dead. It is true the proposed changes to the constitution were first announced in early January and published, for "public discussion," in February. But the date for parliament to vote on the amendments was never entirely clear, only that it would happen in the second half of the year.

Karimov's death might have spurred Turkmenistan's second president to have the measures passed sooner.

Nazarbaev Shuffles The Deck

The death almost certainly seems to have affected the succession preparations in Kazakhstan.

"Seeing what happened over there in Uzbekistan, considering that [Kazakhstan's President Nursultan] Nazarbaev is only two years younger than Karimov… it must have had some impact on his way of seeing the future," Anceschi said. He added, "I think that what we've seen in the last week is the beginning of a transition."

Nazarbaev started to shuffle government officials on September 8. Among the changes, Nazarbaev moved trusted ally Prime Minister Karim Masimov over to head the Committee for National Security [KNB]. Some saw this as a demotion but in Uzbekistan the relatively smooth transition of power has been overseen by the shadowy head the National Security Service, Rustam Inoyatov.

Nazarbaev might be imitating that strategy of a trusted figure being in charge of national security as a guarantee for the president's family after the president is gone. Masimov is additionally well suited to this job since he is part ethnic Uyghur and so cannot aspire to the presidency because that would risk angering neighbor and major trading partner China, as Beijing has been trying to suppress Uyghur nationalist sentiment in the western Xinjiang region [bordering Kazakhstan] for decades.

Grooming A Successor?

Nazarbaev named Deputy Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintaev as prime minister. Sagintaev emerged from relative political obscurity at the end of 2015, appearing ever more frequently in the media, and addressing an increasingly wide range of issues.He appears to have been groomed for something.

Nazarbaev's eldest daughter Darigha was appointed to the Senate on September 13, sparking speculation she might succeed her father. As in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, according to Kazakhstan's constitution the speaker of the Senate takes over in the event a president cannot perform the duties of office. Darigha is only a Senator now, but some feel it is just a matter of time before she rises to become speaker.

However, Marat said it was unlikely Darigha would ever be president. "When you look at Kazakhstan, I think the power transition is going to be different because in Kazakhstan the structure of the state and political elites is different," she said. "There's more competition and there is more bureaucracy, in the good sense of it."

"Tajikistan is the only contender for dynastic rule, power transfer, the son [of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon] is groomed to possibly become the next leader," she added.

It does seem that succession in Kazakhstan will be more complicated than in Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan. As Marat and Anceschi said, there are strong political and economic elites in Kazakhstan.

It also appears some of the transition team for the succession is taking shape, raising questions about what Nazarbaev is planning for the near future.

The Majlis discussed these issues in greater detail and looked at questions of popular acceptance for the second leaders, the durability of current policies, differences between an election and a coronation, a bit about the current situation in Kyrgyzstan, and other topics.

An audio recording of the Majlis can be heard here:

Majlis Podcast: What Central Asian Succession Looks Like
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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.



Majlis Podcast: Kyrgyzstan’s Kings Of Corruption
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Majlis Podcast: Kyrgyzstan’s Kings Of Corruption
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