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Qishloq Ovozi

Island of Hope has saved many animals from being poisoned or clubbed to death by roving municipal animal-extermination squads.

Turkmenistan has just officially registered its first animal shelter, which is in itself welcome news, but there is something else unique about it.

The Island of Hope shelter has been operating informally for several years as the result of private initiative.

In a country where the government controls so much of society and where the government seems to be the originator of every organization or so-called grassroots movement, it is interesting to see such personal initiative.

Suspect, however, is the timing of the announcement that officially registered the shelter.

Turkmenistan is hosting the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games from September 17-27 and the country can certainly use all the positive press it can get.

Turkmenistan is best known as an isolated country where the government is a rights abuser, an enemy of the press, and, according to some reports in the run-up to the Asian Games, also a butcher of stray animals in the capital.

EurasiaNet did a great job of explaining the situation regarding animal rights, or lack thereof, in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat.

The quandary at the Qishloq is how has Tatyana Galberg, her husband Nikolai, and daughters Irina and Katya been able to operate an unofficial shelter that cares for more than 100 dogs and some 50 cats found on the streets, without any seeming interference from officials.

OK -- it's an animal shelter and presumably a nonprofit venture, a charity really, so there's nothing that would directly interest anyone in the Turkmen government.

But people in Turkmenistan are not encouraged to come up with plans or projects, no matter how well-intentioned, and enact them without any involvement of the authorities.

Now that the government has announced the registration of Island of Hope, Turkmen officials are also promising the shelter -- located some 30 kilometers outside Ashgabat -- will get a plot of land, a free supply of medicine, food, and materials needed to house animals.

The shelter could use the help, as currently the main source of food for the animals is macaroni. But help is likely not coming from the government anytime soon.

Turkmenistan is facing tough economic times, with some state employees not being paid on time.

At the Qishloq we are rooting for the Galberg family and their kindhearted project and we wish she could have spoken with us more than just to simply say she had been advised (she did not say by whom) not to speak with the press about the shelter.

Island of Hope has saved many animals from being poisoned or clubbed to death by roving municipal animal-extermination squads, as detailed in the EurasiaNet article.

And if the Galbergs can continue to care for animals at the shelter, as they have for several years, maybe the Turkmen government will promote the idea of local or personal initiatives aimed at improving the country and its society, especially if they pose no threat whatsoever to the regime.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service contributed to this report. The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
China's Kyrgyz minority has too much in common with Uyghurs, as Turkic Muslims, for Beijing's comfort.

Earlier this month, Qishloq Ovozi looked at China's recent worries about its ethnic Kazakhs and now there is information China has similar concerns about its ethnic Kyrgyz citizens.

The Kazakhs and the Kyrgyz are Turkic peoples and the vast majority are Muslims, two distinctions from Han Chinese that are the reasons for Beijing's relatively newfound and increasing unease.

The Kyrgyz and Kazakhs -- in what today is China -- mainly inhabit the western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, an area that has seen outbreaks of violence connected to another Turkic Muslim group in Xinjiang, the Uyghurs.

Some Uyghurs in China have been waging a campaign for independence for decades.

The appearance of small groups of Uyghurs in the ranks of Islamic extremist formations in the Middle East in the last few years has caused Beijing to reassess the more than 60-year-old Uyghur separatist efforts in Xinjiang as now deriving inspiration from Islam.

The Kyrgyz and Kazakhs are increasingly seen by the Chinese authorities as -- at the least -- potential confederates of the Uyghurs. "For example," says one ethnic Kyrgyz man from China who is now living in Kyrgyzstan, "[Chinese authorities] have detained dozens of young Kyrgyz men since June 2016."

The man was speaking to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Azattyk, under condition of anonymity because he has relatives in China.

He says the young Kyrgyz men held in China did not appear to have broken any Chinese laws; they were taken away "for reasons such as having a Koran, growing a beard, going to prayers [at mosque], or having made the hajj."

According to this man and other ethnic Kyrgyz of China who spoke with Azattyk and Radio Free Asia (RFA), these "violations" are now sufficient grounds to imprison people, in some cases for up to 17 years.

RFA spoke with a Kyrgyz businessman from Xinjiang who is now living in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. He noted the "persecution of Uyghurs by the Chinese government is by far the worst [in China]," but "the same kind of persecution is increasingly happening to the [ethnic] Kyrgyz people as well."

Like the "oralmans" of Kazakhstan, who were mentioned in that earlier Qishloq Ovozi report, ethnic Kyrgyz from China -- most of whom live in the Kyzylsu Kyrgyz Autonomous Prefecture that borders Kyrgyzstan -- are welcome to move to Kyrgyzstan and obtain citizenship. The Kyrgyz word for such people is "kairylman."

There are slightly more than 200,000 ethnic Kyrgyz in China, so the number of "repatriates" to Kyrgyzstan is far lower than the number moving from China to Kazakhstan. But the kairlymans have the same problem Kazakhstan's oralmans are having; they sometimes disappear when they cross back into China to see relatives.

It happened in April to 34-year-old Turdakun Abylet, who moved to Kyrgyzstan in 2015 and received citizenship on October 25.

His friend, Muslihiddin Salimov, lives in Bishkek. He tells Azattyk that Abylet went to China in April and was apparently detained at the border. Salimov says no one can tell him what happened to Abylet after that.

Salimov tried calling Abylet's relatives in Xinjiang but he says they were too frightened to answer any questions. "I couldn't find out if he arrived or not, or was detained or not. They wouldn't tell me anything," he said.

Salimov appealed to Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry and Interior Ministry for help in obtaining information about his friend. Eventually Salimov found out that Abylet had been detained for not properly rescinding his Chinese citizenship before he left for Kyrgyzstan.

Since Abylet is still technically a Chinese citizen, according to the Chinese authorities, there appears to be nothing Kyrgyzstan's government can do to have him freed and returned to Kyrgyzstan even though he is a Kyrgyz citizen.

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev (left) meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Like other Central Asian leaders, he won't threaten key economic ties over ethnic brethren.
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev (left) meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Like other Central Asian leaders, he won't threaten key economic ties over ethnic brethren.

And it's not only kairlymans. According to the businessman who spoke to RFA, "Nearly 100 Kyrgyz students from Kyzylsu [Kyrgyz Autonomous Prefecture in China] who are studying in Kyrgyzstan were detained upon their return to China during the summer vacation."

Many -- perhaps most -- of these Kyrgyz detained in China are sent to the "political education" camps that are appearing throughout Xinjiang.

The Chinese government has enjoyed excellent ties with the governments of the neighboring Central Asian states -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan -- since the mid-1990s.

The economic situation in all three of those countries would be far worse without the huge investments and loans China has pumped into Central Asia since the late 1990s, as well as the jobs -- albeit many of them temporary -- that Chinese companies have provided for locals on road, railway, power line, pipeline, and other Chinese-funded projects.

But that has not endeared China to the people of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

The people of these three countries see China as a giant that is hungry for their natural resources and their land, while at the same time sending ever more Chinese workers to Central Asia to join in building these road, rail, power line, and pipeline projects, as well as Chinese merchants who take up stalls in Central Asian bazaars.

And Beijing is clearly taking a new view regarding its ties with Central Asia.

Citizens of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan have joined the same Islamic extremist groups that some Uyghurs from Xinjiang have joined. And there is a greater opportunity to practice religion, specifically Islam, in Central Asia than there is in Xinjiang.

That perhaps explains, at least partially, why the Chinese government views Kazakhs and Kyrgyz who moved out of China with suspicion when they return for visits.

The economic ties that bind Central Asia and China are too important for all of those governments to allow relations to be affected by China's campaign against Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang.

But interaction among Central Asians with Chinese appears to be on the wane and, inevitably, news of what's happening to the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz in China will reach the general populations in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, likely causing further damage to their impressions of China.

Azattyk Director Venera Djumataeva contributed to this report. The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

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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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