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Central Asia Report: June 26, 2006

June 26, 2006, Volume 6, Number 19

WEEK AT A GLANCE (June 12-18, 2006). Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev signed an accord on Kazakhstan's use of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Kazakhstan will initially ship 10 million tons of crude oil to Baku for transport through the 1,770-kilometer pipeline. The signing took place as Kazakhstan hosted a summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia. Elsewhere, the trial of 10 defendants charged with involvement in the February murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev began in a district court north of Astana.

Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted to reject a 2003 treaty on relations with Kazakhstan for the fifth time because deputies felt it failed to include adequate measures covering migration, water resources, and the transit of goods through Kazakhstan. Kyrgyz lawmakers also voted down a treaty delineating the country's border with Kazakhstan. And the Supreme Court rejected an asylum request filed by an Uzbek refugee, Rasuljon Pirmatov, who has been in detention in southern Kyrgyzstan since fleeing Uzbekistan after the Andijon crackdown last year. Prosecutor-General Kambaraly Kongantiev is considering whether to return Pirmatov and three other Uzbek detainees to Uzbekistan or send them to a third country.

Three media groups formed a new coalition in Tajikistan to promote cooperation among journalists and protect freedom of speech. The coalition comprises the Media Alliance of Tajikistan, the National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan, and the Association of Independent Electronic Media of Tajikistan. News agencies quoted Interior Ministry sources as saying that three explosions -- near the Iranian Embassy, outside the headquarters of a charitable fund run by opposition Islamic Renaissance Party leader Said Abdullo Nuri, and opposite the Constitutional Court -- were the work of a group of adolescents, not terrorists. And a court in Sughd sentenced an Uzbek national to 13 years in prison after his conviction on charges of spying. Judge Khotam Nazarov said that Abdujalol Qodirov is the third Uzbek citizen in a 10-day period to be convicted on espionage charges.

An Uzbek military court sentenced Erkin Musaev, a member of the Defense Ministry staff, to a 15-year prison term for espionage on behalf of an unnamed NATO state. Earlier reports indicated that Musaev was found guilty of sharing classified information on Uzbek and Russian armed forces with Pentagon officials. Elsewhere, President Islam Karimov met with CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha to discuss efforts aimed at countering terrorism, fighting organized crime, and combating Islamic extremism. Uzbekistan is not a CSTO member, but the meeting is the latest sign of strengthening ties with the organization.

EURASIA: UNIFIED MESSAGE EMERGES FROM SHANGHAI SUMMIT. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held a summit in eastern China on June 15 at which leaders from Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan reaffirmed their commitment to improving mutual ties and signed agreements on fighting terrorism and developing better transportation links. The leaders of Iran, Pakistan, Mongolia, and Afghanistan were also at the gathering, as well as high-ranking officials from India.

SCO leaders placed a widely anticipated emphasis on security issues at the meeting, billed as the group's fifth-anniversary summit.

Chinese President Hu Jintao asserted to reporters afterward that the expansive SCO region is stable. But he also identified "three forces" that he said threaten stability: terrorism, extremism, and separatism.

"Just like the rest of the world, this region is basically stable," Hu said. "But at the same time, three forces are rampant -- drugs are widespread, cross-border crimes are serious, and particularly economic development is lagging. We need to comprehensively build up our cooperation, work for a long-lasting peace, shared glory, and a harmonious region."

Working In Concert

Other leaders echoed those statements. Russian President Vladimir Putin said SCO members need to work in concert to improve their ability to combat terrorism and extremism. The declaration signed at the end of the summit emphasized the Shanghai group's role in fighting the threats of terrorism and extremism on the Eurasian continent. In it, members vow to "make [a] constructive contribution to the establishment of a new global security architecture of mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, and mutual respect."

Putin suggested that the SCO -- which previously has stated it is not and will not be a military bloc -- could help alleviate "crisis situations."

Such comments were presumably well received by the Central Asian leaders attending the summit. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have waged high-profile battles against Islamic extremists for several years now. Yesterday Kyrgyz Prime Minister Feliks Kulov warned of the danger of renewed attacks by armed extremists in Central Asia's Ferghana Valley in the coming months.

Interest From The Gallery

SCO talk of help in the fight against terrorism might be welcomed also by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai -- in attendance with observer and guest status. Pakistan and Afghanistan are both battling armed insurgencies and terrorist movements that threaten to weaken their central governments.

Musharraf also used the occasion to lobby for his country's full SCO membership -- something that Pakistan, along with Iran, India, and Mongolia, have been seeking for several years.

Russian President Putin noted the interest of other countries in joining the SCO.

"The attention of both individual states and regional formations toward SCO activity is growing steadily," Putin said. "This interest shows the constructive and open position of member states. The equal and mutual beneficial character of our partnership becomes a big attracting force."

Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, called on the SCO to work out a process for accepting new members.

"It is important to mention that attention [at the summit] was paid to issues related to improving procedures for admission to the SCO of new member states and observers," Nazarbaev said. "This issue is especially important in light of the growing interest of the international community toward the SCO. We instructed the council of foreign ministers of the SCO to coordinate and consider ways and criteria for new states to be admitted to the organization."

Practical Goals

Amid calls for closer cooperation on security issues and to fight drug trafficking, the SCO leaders also reiterated the desire for improved trade relations within the group. They noted new road and rail links, as well as investment in energy projects in Central Asia. President Putin said cooperation among the SCO states could raise the standards of living in all six countries, and he noted a special significance for Central Asia.

"An effective and equal partnership can reduce the gaps among the standards of living in our societies and turn Central Asia into a dynamic part of the international community," Putin said.

Chinese officials also concluded bilateral deals in the run-up to the SCO summit to invest in energy projects in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

One year ago, the Shanghai group concluded a summit in Astana by calling on the United States to set a timetable for leaving Central Asian military bases that were being used for coalition operations in Afghanistan.

Today's summit produced no single statement that will attract as much attention. But in a presumed allusion to the West, the six leaders stated flatly that models of social development should not be exported. The group also expressed a joint desire to see that the next UN secretary-general comes from Asia.

(By Bruce Pannier, with contributions by Kubat Otorbaev of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. Originally published on June 15, 2006.)

KYRGYZSTAN: DOMESTIC VIOLENCE -- TRADITION OR CRIME? At least 17 women have died in Kyrgyzstan in the past two years at the hands of physically abusive husbands. It is a sad reminder that many Kyrgyz women are unable to escape the horrors of domestic violence. Statistics from the country's crisis shelters -- where many of the most serious cases end up -- suggest that 80 to 90 percent of Kyrgyzstan's victims of domestic violence are women.

Ainura says she never imagined married life could become such a nightmare. Or that she would have to suffer through so much in two years of life together.

She was building a home and a future with a man whom she calls her husband, although she says her marriage was never officially registered. But he soon began to criticize and beat Ainura on a regular basis.

'In The Beginning...'

"In the beginning, it was all good -- until we got married," Ainura says. "Oftentimes, he was just jealous. It started after we got married, and got worse after I got pregnant. When he would leave for work, he started locking me inside our house. He broke our home telephone and, still, after coming back from work, he would start asking questions about visitors. I answered, 'Who could come when the door was locked?' He began to search for reasons to swear at me -- he even confessed that on the way home he would plan on what he could complain about. For example, if dinner wasn't ready or clothes not ironed or washed, and so on."

And that's when the beatings began, she says.

"He beat me badly, kicked [me] -- even when I had our son in my arms," she says. "Our son was very scared afterward, and even when my husband was talking loudly, [our son] would start crying hysterically."

To Ainura, it was clear that her husband was trying to turn her into his property, rather than his wife.

"I was just a slave to him," she says. "I cooked, cleaned, washed, [and] looked after our child. And when he came home, I begged him not to beat me."

The young couple lived together with her husband's relatives. To Ainura's surprise, they never intervened to stop a beating or to discourage her husband's cruel treatment.

"The last time, he beat me and kicked me in the kidneys -- it was very painful," Ainura says. "I cried and ran out of the room. As I was running out, I saw his brother and sister sitting and silently observing in the next room."

'A Part Of Our Tradition'

How is it that seemingly typical families can stand by in silence and watch a young woman being savagely beaten by her husband? Perhaps society considers such violence acceptable.

"Men have beaten their wives since the ancient times," a young man named Sabyr who live in Bishkek said. "These actions became a part of our culture and traditions."

Does Sabyr beat his own wife?

"Yes, I do -- two or three times a month," he said. "I don't want to do it, but sometimes it just happens on its own. They talk too much, [or they] complain, and sometimes it has to be done -- just as a warning to them."

Another man, Samat, says he has never raised a hand against his wife. But he adds that he considers that an option.

"I think that couples need to understand each other," Samat said. "A husband and a wife -- both should be trying to create a peaceful atmosphere in their home. Beating is just too much. But there are times when women behave in a way that makes their husbands beat them. Those men's actions can be justified. But obviously men should try to explain everything through talking."

Another man, Askar, says he fears the effect that such violence can have on children.

"I am against domestic violence," Askar said. "If a wife and her husband fight at home, what kind of a child will grow up in such a family?"

'Who Will Take Care Of My Child?'

Ainura eventually decided she had had enough of her husband's abuse. After a brutal beating, she sought the help of a doctor and eventually left home. She says her maternal instincts prompted that difficult decision. Ainura felt that she needed to be healthy and strong for the sake of her 1-year-old son.

Wherever Ainura might end up, she thought, it would be better for herself and her baby.

"I thought: 'What is going to happen if he kills me one day? If I die, who will take care of my child?' And this feeling saved me," Ainura said. "I realized that my son needs me."

With no parents or other close relatives to turn to, Ainura focuses her attention and her energies on her child.

After leaving the home of her abusive husband and his compliant family, Ainura sought shelter at a crisis center in Bishkek. The Sezim crisis center is now their home, although it is difficult to say for how long. In addition to food and shelter, Ainura receives psychological counseling and legal advice.

In The Crisis Center

The shelter's director, Byubyusara Ryskulova, says the number of women turning to Sezim for help is increasing every year. The center recently sponsored a survey on domestic violence in which two out of three respondents claimed to have been the victims of domestic violence. Ryskulova places much of the blame on the way children in Kyrgyz society are raised.

"From a very young age -- in kindergarten, in school, and then in university -- we have to teach everyone that all members of society are equal," Ryskulova said. "Everyone should know their rights and know how to defend them and not violate the rights of the others."

Counselors from the crisis center are trying to determine whether Ainura's husband can be taken to court for his abuse and forced to meet his obligations to his wife and child. The task is made more difficult by the fact that Ainura and her husband never officially registered their marriage.

But still, Ainura says she is happy to have escaped what she describes as a life of "slavery." She wants to find a job and be a good mother to her son.

And while she remains dependent on the shelter for the time being, Ainura talks about plans and hopes for her and her baby's future. (By Bermet Egemberdieva. Originally published on June 20, 2006.)

CENTRAL ASIA: ARE UZBEK-TAJIK RELATIONS AT A NEW LOW? Relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have rarely been good since those two former Soviet republics gained independence in late 1991. This month has been particularly harsh on mutual ties, with Tajik and Uzbek authorities trading accusations and counteraccusations over security on their common border.

Tajik courts sentenced three men to jail terms of up to 15 years after finding them guilty of spying for Uzbekistan.

In a separate case, also in Tajikistan, two alleged members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) were arrested. Those arrests came just weeks after Tajik authorities jailed six other members of the IMU, whose stated goal is the overthrow of the Uzbek government but whose members have stirred up trouble in neighboring Tajikistan since 2005.

Tajik Border Guards complained last week that land mines laid by the Uzbek military along their common border are killing innocent Tajik citizens. They also claim that Uzbek border guards sometimes fire their guns indiscriminately into Tajikistan, causing casualties.

Meanwhile, a renegade Tajik army colonel and his supporters are believed by Tajik authorities to be sheltering in Uzbekistan.

Espionage Conviction

On June 13, a court in the northern Tajik province of Soghd found 55-year-old Uzbek national Abdukarim Gafurov guilty of spying for Uzbekistan and sentenced him to 13 years in jail. Gafurov was the third person sentenced for spying on Uzbekistan's behalf since June 2. Gafurov's lawyer, Tatyana Khotyukina, says her client is innocent, and had just begun to seek Tajik citizenship.

"[Gafurov] said here [in court] that he did not engage in any spying and he was even in the first stages of renouncing Uzbek citizenship and accepting Tajik [citizenship]," Khotyukina said.

The same day as Gafurov's conviction, Tajik Interior Ministry spokesman Khudonazar Asoev announced the arrest of two men whom he described as IMU members. One was from Tajikistan's southwestern Khatlon Province; the other was from Uzbekistan's eastern Andijon Province. Their arrests follow a Soghd provincial court's sentencing of six IMU members in May.

...And Other Complaints

Tajik authorities blame the IMU for the death of a military official earlier this year and bombings in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, in 2005.

Tajikistan also complained again about the Uzbek mining in 1999 of its borders with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The move was reportedly intended to keep out armed IMU militants. But the land mines were placed haphazardly, and no one is exactly sure where the explosives lie. In Tajikistan, land mines have killed locals gathering wood and children playing in the border area.

Tajik Border Guard spokesman Khushnud Rahmatulloev spoke at a news conference last week and gave these figures for land-mine casualties along the Uzbek border.

"Since 2000, there have been 65 confirmed land-mine explosions and, as a result, 68 people were killed and 83 people were injured," Rahmatulloev said.

Tajik Border Guards accuse Uzbekistan of violating an Ottawa convention prohibiting and ordering the destruction of land mines, the Ottawa Convention On The Prohibition Of The Use, Stockpiling, Production And Transfer Or Anti-Personnel Mines And On Their Destruction. They also complain that -- since 2000 -- there have been 15 incidents of cross-border fire from Uzbek territory. Those shootings have left eight Tajik citizens dead and six others wounded.

On this last point, Uzbekistan has responded with counteraccusations. Uzbek border officials blame their Tajik counterparts for "allowing themselves to fire their automatic weapons not only into the air, but also in the direction of Uzbekistan," and putting innocent people at risk.

Sheltering Terrorists?

The Tajik State Committee for Border Protection also released a statement on June 13 accusing Uzbek authorities of sheltering terrorists. The statement referred to renegade Tajik Army Colonel Mahmud Khudaiberdiyev, who twice in the late 1990s led armed insurrections against the Tajik government. In the last attempt, in November 1998, Khudaiberdiyev and his troops attacked areas of northern Tajikistan near the Uzbek border. Once defeated, many of those armed insurgents -- including Khudaiberdiyev -- vanished. Tajik authorities said at the time -- and repeated last week-- that Khudaiberdiyev found safe haven in Uzbekistan.

Marat Mamatshoev is a chief editor at the independent Tajik media outlet Asia-Plus. He says Tajik-Uzbek frustrations have been simmering for some time.

"The relationship between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan has generally been tense for many years, let's say," Mamatshoev says. "And apparently [those tensions] have reached a certain point."

Mamatshoev says the example of former Colonel Khudaiberdiyev shows why the Tajik authorities may be tiring of the Uzbek government's reluctance to address mutual grievances.

"Concerning [the allegation of] Uzbekistan hiding some people who participated in the attempted mutiny of 1998, the Tajik side has made statements [on the topic], but there has never been any comment from the Uzbek side," Mamatshoev says.

John MacLeod is a senior editor at the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting. He agrees that the Tajik government has not raised new issues with Uzbekistan. He suggests that Dushanbe's sudden spate of criticism may have more to do with domestic political events later this year.

"Not one of these problems is new. Historically, it was the Uzbek government that tended to make public remarks about diplomatic problems of various kinds in its relationship with Dushanbe," MacLeod says. "So to me, it certainly remains a mystery what is prompting the Tajik government. There are no kind of objective, external factors that would prompt it to [increase its criticism of Tashkent]. The only possible explanation really is that a general sense of nervousness has pervaded the Tajik government ahead of the presidential election at the end of this year."

Uzbekistan has its own complaints -- about environmental damage from a Tajik aluminum plant near the border and about IMU militants hiding in Tajikistan's rugged mountains.

But as Tajikistan's presidential ballot in November approaches, it appears that officials in Dushanbe are likely to do most of the complaining.

(By Bruce Pannier. Iskander Aliev of RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report. Originally published on June 19, 2006.)

TURKMENISTAN: AUTHORITIES CAST WIDE NET IN CONSPIRACY ALLEGATIONS Security officials in Turkmenistan are claiming to have foiled an opposition plot aimed at destabilizing the country. In comments broadcast on national television on June 19, National Security Minister Geldymukhammed Ashirmukhammedov said a number of foreign nationals and diplomats are involved in the alleged conspiracy.

The security minister's announcement followed reports that two Turkmen human rights activists and a freelance reporter for RFE/RL's Turkmen Service had been detained in Asghabat over the weekend.

Annakurban Amanklychev and Yelena Ovezova of the Bulgarian-based Turkmen Helsinki Foundation (THF) were arrested on June 16 and June 18, respectively.

Authorities also detained RFE/RL freelancer Ogulsapar Muradova and Sapardurdy Khajiev, the brother-in-law of THF Chairwoman Tajigul Begmedova, on June 18.

Security officials also led away -- and continue to hold -- Muradova's three adult children, who were detained on June 19.

The London-headquartered rights organization Amnesty International has condemned the arrests.

Fearing For Detainees' Safety

The THF said in a statement released today that it is concerned some of the detainees might have been physically abused or tortured.

The group claims security officers forced Muradova to tell her relatives by walkie-talkie to hand over her computer, mobile telephone, and fax machine to the authorities. The THF quoted relatives as saying that Muradova sounded "incoherent," as if she had been drugged.

Begmedova told RFE/RL from Varna in Bulgaria that she has received alarming news regarding another of the detainees.

"While Amanklychev's relatives were standing in the courtyard [of the building where the detainees were taken], they asked an Interior Ministry official who was not involved in this -- most people there are from the Security Ministry, and Interior Ministry people are afraid of even approaching that building -- they asked [the official] about Amanklychev. He told them: 'You wouldn't recognize him. After three days of uninterrupted questioning, he's simply unrecognizable,'" Begmedova said.

The Allegations

Addressing a cabinet meeting chaired by President Saparmurat Niyazov, National Security Minister Ashirmukhammedov said on June 19 that it was Amanklychev's arrest that helped his services foil the alleged opposition plot.

"Annakurban Atabalovich [Amanklychev] was detained," Ashirmukhammedov said. "During the search of his car, several weapons and ammunition were discovered."

In a statement on June 18, the THF said security officers were seen throwing an unidentified parcel into Amanklychev's car. The group quoted an unidentified official at the district prosecutor's office as suggesting the parcel likely contained "drugs or ammunition."

National Security Minister Ashirmukhammedov claimed that exiled opposition figures sought by authorities in Turkmenistan masterminded the alleged conspiracy.

He singled out a former central-bank chief, Khudaiberdy Orazov; a former ambassador to Turkey, Nurmukhammed Khanamov; a former foreign minister, Avdy Kulyev; and Parakhat Yklymov, who is the brother of a suspected plot leader who was tortured to death in a Turkmen prison three years ago.

Officials See Orange

The security minister also implicated THF Chairwoman Begmedova and her husband, former central-bank Deputy Chairman Annadurdy Khajiev.

"They invited [Amanklychev] to Ukraine in order to teach him how to collect intelligence and conduct sabotage technique in Turkmenistan, as well as [to teach them] methods used during Ukraine's Orange Revolution," Ashirmukhammedov charged.

The THF's Begmedova dismisses Ashirmukhammedov's accusations as "nonsense." She said both THF activists arrested over the weekend went recently to Ukraine, but certainly not with a view to helping harming Turkmenistan's national security:

"We at the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation state that Amanklychev and Ovezova went [to Ukraine] in the summer of 2005 for a human rights training session," Begmedova said. "This session was organized by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Poland and the Donetsk Memorial organization, which trains people in monitoring human rights violations. Is this really something illegal?"

In comments to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, representatives of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Poland and the Donetsk Memorial group denied any involvement in Turkmen politics. They said their respective groups deal solely with human rights and civil-society issues.

Western 'Collaborators'?

To back his claims, Security Minister Ashirmukhammedov displayed video equipment that he said a visiting French television crew had left recently for Amanklychev. He claimed the equipment was going to be used to shoot a documentary film that would falsely portray life in Turkmenistan.

The security minister said that Western nationals were suspected of conspiring with the alleged plotters. Ashirmukhammedov specifically referred to French diplomats and British citizens. He also named a regional representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Ashirmukhammedov said the heads of the French and OSCE missions in Ashgabat would be notified personally if those suspicions were confirmed. He also said the foreign diplomats should repent, or face deportation.

Neither the French Embassy in Ashgabat nor the French Foreign Ministry in Paris were immediately available for comment. OSCE representatives in the Turkmen capital declined to comment on Ashirmukhammedov's allegations. (By Jean-Christophe Peuch. Originally published on June 20, 2006.)