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Central Asia Report: June 14, 2005

14 June 2005, Volume 5, Number 22

WEEK AT A GLANCE (6-12 June 2005). A Kazakh court ordered former Emergency Situations Agency head Zamanbek Nurkadilov to pay $3,660 in damages for suggesting at a July 2004 news conference that President Nursultan Nazarbaev and other high-ranking officials were implicated in the death of journalist Askhat Sharipzhanov. Nurkadilov, who broke with Nazarbaev in March 2004 to join the opposition, plans to appeal. Darigha Nazarbaeva, the president's daughter and head of the pro-presidential Asar Party, told a party congress that a repeat of the unrest that shook Kyrgyzstan in March is possible in Kazakhstan "because a new form of expansion -- that is, the export of democracy -- has emerged in world practice." She explained, "This is, in fact, a new technology of instituting controllable governments in territories that are of strategic interest." On a different front, U.S. energy-services firm Halliburton announced that it will attempt to resolve a $230 million criminal probe against one of the company's subsidiaries in Kazakhstan. The charges involve exploiting customs loopholes to avoid paying duties; Halliburton denied any wrongdoing.

Kyrgyz prosecutors issued a warrant for the arrest of former Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev, who is reported to be in Russia, on corruption charges. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees expressed "shock at the deportation of four Uzbek men" from a camp housing nearly 500 Uzbek asylum seekers who fled to Kyrgyzstan after violence in Andijon on 13 May. Unidentified gunmen shot and killed businessman and legislator Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev in Bishkek. Persistent rumors had linked Surabaldiev to the activities of provocateurs in support of then President Askar Akaev on the eve of the 24 March unrest that led to Akaev's ouster, but speculation in the wake of the killing focused on Surabaldiev's business ties. Unknown assailants attacked the campaign headquarters of leading presidential candidate and acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev, injuring two guards. Meanwhile, a poll of 5,000 respondents revealed 81-percent support for Bakiev's candidacy in the upcoming 10 July presidential election.

In Tajikistan, a lawyer representing jailed journalist Jumaboy Tolibov said that some of the charges against him involve articles he wrote criticizing a prosecutor in Sughd Province. And Tajik Energy Minister Jurabek Nurmahmadov was in Tehran, where he signed an agreement with his Iranian counterpart Habibullah Bitaraf on the construction of Tajikistan's Sangtuda-2 hydropower station at an estimated cost of $220 million.

Former Turkmen Deputy Prime Minister Yolly Gurbanmuradov, removed from his post and charged in late May with embezzling millions, was accused of collaborating with unnamed foreign intelligence services to "sell cheap oil and gas abroad." Russian gas monopolist Gazprom voiced doubts about the extent of Turkmenistan's gas reserves, noting that a promised audit is now several months overdue. And Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov blasted French construction firm Bouygues for shoddy, tardy work, citing as proof the tarnished dome of a vast mosque the company recently built in his hometown. Company representatives promised to remedy any defects.

Human Rights Watch released a report featuring numerous eyewitness accounts of the violence in Andijon on 13 May; it described the event as a "massacre" perpetrated by Uzbek government forces. Six U.S. senators wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urging a review of ties with Uzbekistan in the wake of bloodshed in Andijon. The European Parliament condemned a "massacre" and called for an international inquiry. But Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry rejected the call and alleged that "dozens of foreign citizens took part in the riots that occurred in Andijon," echoing statements by Russian officials charging Taliban involvement in the violence.


By Daniel Kimmage

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev's administration fell on 24 March amid chaotic street clashes, and a night of looting followed in the Kyrgyz capital. While events never careened out of control, the prospect of unrest has clouded the horizon ever since.

This ever-present unease has focused attention on several outbursts of violence in recent weeks: the 10 April murder of Usen Kudaibergenov, a well-known film personality and ally of First Deputy Prime Minister Feliks Kulov; the crowd-driven eviction on 1 June of protestors who had occupied the Supreme Court since late April; a near-riot at the Kara-Suu market in southern Kyrgyzstan on 10 June; the 10 June murder of businessman and legislator Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev; an attack on the campaign headquarters of leading presidential candidate and acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev on the night of 11 June; and a shoot-out at a hotel in Osh resulting in several injuries and a death on 13 June involving supporters and opponents of legislator Bayaman Erkinbaev, who also controls the market in Kara-Suu.

There is a temptation to link these disturbing events to the destabilizing impact of sudden political change, as well as the scramble for power in the lead-up to the 10 July presidential election. While there is more than a grain of truth in such explanations, they ignore the deeper cause. Acting Deputy Premier Daniyar Usenov, who heads a commission charged with investigating the alleged business interests of former President Akaev, pointed to that cause at a 13 June cabinet meeting. Usenov charged that Akaev, his family, and their associates spun a corrupt web that enmeshed a vast array of lucrative businesses, subordinating them to the overriding aim of personal enrichment at the expense of the national interest. Usenov said, "We've given our assessment that all of this was an organized criminal group," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported.

In his 2001 book, "The Graves Are Not Yet Full," Bill Berkeley, a journalist with years of experience in Africa, argues that the worst ills that have plagued the continent, from ethnic strife to genocide, are not the result of any "age-old tribal hatreds," but rather a grimly logical consequence of tyranny, the absent rule of law, and a resulting culture of impunity. Just as those evils produced calamity in Europe in the 20th century, so have they in Africa. Early in the book, Berkeley writes, "Inflamed ethnic passions are not the cause of political conflict, but its consequence. In a lawless world, ethnicity is a badge of legitimacy and protection -- and justice. It is the bond by which men high and low adhere to a vigilante code." Describing Chief Gatsha Buthelezi's KwaZulu Police (KZP) in South Africa, Berkeley notes that the KZP "was supposedly responsible for neutral law enforcement in KwaZulu; in reality it was Chief Buthelezi's personal militia. Thus does crime become combustibly blurred with politics, when the rule of law becomes identified with a partisan political interest."

Turning to the tragedy of Rwanda's genocide, Berkeley focuses on the lawless political culture that formed its historical context:

"In Rwanda -- very much as in Liberia, Zaire, Sudan, Uganda, and KwaZulu-Natal -- the law of the jungle, a culture of impunity, obtained. Rwanda's Hutu elite, those who excelled in this lawless culture, established a clear example of the state as a racketeering enterprise. Juvenal Habyarimana had governed Rwanda for twenty-three years after the model of his mentor, Mobutu of Zaire. Amply funded and armed by the French, Habyarimana ran lucrative rackets in everything from development aid to marijuana smuggling. He and his in-laws operated the country's sole black-market foreign exchange bureau in tandem with the Central Bank. Habyarimana also was implicated in the poaching of mountain gorillas, selling the skulls and feet of baby primates. Habyarimana's brother-in-law was the principle suspect in the murder of the American anthropologist Dian Fossey.

"This was the criminal culture in which the genocide was hatched. Like gangsters and despots through the ages, Habyarimana apparently was consumed by the monster he had created."

Central Asia has been spared the horrors that ravaged Rwanda, but it has been the scene of many of the lesser crimes that have paved and continue to pave the way to greater crimes in Africa and elsewhere. When Usenov alleges that an "organized criminal group" ran Kyrgyzstan, he eerily echoes Berkeley's description of Rwanda under Juvenal Habyarimana as a "racketeering enterprise." Berkeley makes the point even more strongly in his introduction: "It is as if men like Vito Corleone seized control of not just 'turf' on the margins of society, but of the state itself and all its organs: police and army, secret police, the courts, the central bank, the civil service, the press, TV, and radio."

The chaotic conditions that sparked the precipitous collapse of President Akaev's government were only in part the result of flawed parliamentary elections. To a greater extent, they were the product of a decade-long failure to construct legitimate institutions to ground the rule of law. As Berkeley's richly documented study of African politics shows, lawlessness begets anarchy, and anarchy breeds horrors. That post-Akaev Kyrgyzstan has largely avoided anarchy is a testimony to a very real chance to lay the foundation for the rule of law. Each of the episodes enumerated above represents an opportunity to proceed with that process through an honest investigation of circumstances and impartial application of justice. At the same time, each of them underscores the dangers that lurk if the process is deferred.


By Gulnoza Saidazimova

Several people were wounded on 13 June when a crowd of some 200 stormed a hotel in the Kyrgyz city of Osh, in apparent protest against a lawmaker with a financial interest in the business. The incident is just the latest act of violence as the Central Asian state prepares to elect a successor to ousted President Askar Akaev. The country's acting president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, formally registered on 13 June as a candidate for the 10 July vote. On 11 June, unidentified assailants burst into Bakiev's campaign headquarters, beating two guards. That incident followed the fatal shooting on 10 June of lawmaker Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev, an Akaev ally, in the capital Bishkek.

Kubanychbek Joldoshev, a correspondent with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, reported from the scene of the Osh hotel siege that events had turned violent: "I'm now hearing gunfire from Kalashnikovs. About 200 men, who earlier attempted to occupy the Hotel Alay, are now hiding near the premises. Ordinary people who live nearby are in a panic. They are running away and driving away quickly."

The incident began with a group of men armed with wooden clubs forcing their way into the hotel before being repelled by security guards. The guards reportedly chased the group outside before firing their weapons into the air. Several people were reportedly injured in the incident.

The men storming the hotel were believed to be opponents of parliamentary deputy Bayaman Erkinbaev. It is not known whether the attack was politically motivated, although a demonstration was recently held in Kara-Suu to protest what they said were his corrupt financial dealings.

Erkinbaev was shot and slightly wounded in a previous attack in April.

On 11 June, an attack was made on the campaign headquarters of interim President Bakiev.

In an interview on 12 June with RFE/RL, Avazbek Atakhanov, a Bakiev spokesman, described the assault: "Last night [11 June], the Bishkek election campaign headquarters of Kyrgyzstan's acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev was attacked by unknown assailants. Two of Bakiev's guards were beaten. They are now in critical condition. The National Security Service of Kyrgyzstan has launched an investigation into the crime."

Bakiev is currently considered the favorite to win the 10 July vote, raising questions about whether the attack was linked to his political goals.

Officials said they believe the attack was politically motivated. The government press service alleged the assailants attacked the campaign headquarter guards in order to find out Bakiev's schedule, itinerary, and place of residence.

Aalybek Akunov, a professor of political science at the Kyrgyz National University in Bishkek, said he is skeptical about the alleged political motives. He told RFE/RL that tracking the plans of high-profile politicians does not require an attack on their headquarters.

"If one wants to find out information about [politicians'] itinerary, movements, and address, one doesn't need to beat up guards," Akunov said. "There are other ways to get this kind of information. There is some [artificiality] about this incident. Therefore, I wouldn't link it with politics."

Akunov dismissed suggestions the attack on Bakiev's headquarters may have been organized by the interim president's own team, in order to boost his popularity ahead of the election. He said it is more likely that Bakiev's guards got into a fight with passersby and then made up the story to explain their injuries.

Unless investigators prove otherwise, Akunov said, Bakiev would have no reason to stage such an incident. "Bakiev's rating is very high compared to the other candidates," he said. "Therefore, I don't think his team would resort to this kind of trick to increase his rating."

No explanation has yet been made regarding a third incident, the 10 June assassination of parliament deputy Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev. The reasons behind the Surabaldiev's assassination are not known.

Surabaldiev was widely suspected of having criminal ties. He was also one of Akaev's main supporters, and allegedly helped organize pro-government rallies on the day of Akaev's ouster, 24 March.

Lawmaker Kubatbek Baibolov told RFE/RL there are a number of possible motives in Surabaldiev's killing.

"There might be a number of different theories, starting from a dispute over property distribution and ending with politics," Baibolov said. "It is so far very hard to come to a single conclusion. It has had a negative impact on the image of the [Kyrgyz] parliament. It is getting dangerous. There were two attacks against deputies within the [last] month. This issue, of course, will be discussed [by parliament]."

The head of the Kyrgyz National Security Service, Tashtemir Aitbaev, on the day of the assassination told parliament there was no political motive, saying the killing was tied to "underworld disputes."

Last April, another deputy, Bayaman Erkinbaev, was shot and slightly wounded. He claimed at the time the attack was linked to his intention to run for president.

Akunov said he doubts either incident was politically motivated. "I wouldn't draw such a conclusion, because those two deputies [Surabaldiev and Erkinbaev] have long been known as wealthy businessmen, and there were allegations that they had criminal connections," Akunov said. "Therefore, it wouldn't be right to make any political conclusions. Maybe it was just criminal infighting. There is an investigation going on. It will uncover the real reasons."

Five presidential candidates were registered on 11 June. Six others who have declared their intention to run for president -- including Bakiev -- have until 6 p.m. Bishkek time on 13 June to register.

One of the registered candidates, former Interior Minister Keneshbek Duyshebaev, asked the head of the Central Election Commission on 11 June to provide all candidates with personal guards. He said their personal security has become a pressing issue since the Surabaldiev assassination. (Originally published on 13 June 2005.)


By Gulnoza Saidazimova

Turkmen women and men used to be the most expensive brides and grooms in the world. That was until President Saparmurat Niyazov scrapped a rule forcing foreigners to pay an "insurance deposit" of $50,000 to marry a citizen of Turkmenistan. This week, he issued a new decree he said was aimed at protecting Turkmens married to foreigners. But neither change is likely to mean much to the foreigners who marry Turkmens the most -- people living in the border regions of Uzbekistan. For them, legal matrimony remains as difficult as ever.

Kumush Narziyeva is a Turkmen citizen who has lived in the Uzbek town of Talimarjon since the summer of 2002. That was when she and her Uzbek fiance eloped to Uzbekistan, illegally crossing the border and having a nikah, or Islamic marriage, in Talimarjon.

"I eloped with my husband because I loved him. Our parents didn't like that, they didn't speak to us for 2 1/2 years. The dowry is a very complicated matter in Turkmenistan. Some men earn money, others don't. They can't pay the dowry, and so they kidnap Turkmen [girls]," Narziyeva said.

According to the Turkmen laws at the time, Narziyeva's fiance would have had to pay at least $50,000 to receive official permission to marry her. He would have also had to own a house in Turkmenistan and live in the country for at least a year before being allowed to wed.

President Niyazov, issuing the decree in June 2001, said it would protect women from being tricked into abusive relationships, and that the money would be used to provide for children in case of divorce.

The terms were high even for prospective Western grooms. For the Turkmens and Uzbeks living in the border area of neighboring Uzbekistan, they were impossible. People in the region have traditionally had intercultural marriages. But with an average monthly salary of just $20-30, there was no way they could afford the $50,000 fee.

After the requirement was introduced, many Turkmen women eloped or were "voluntarily kidnapped� by Uzbek men.

Independent observers said the move made Turkmenistan even more isolated.

But it's recently gotten cheaper to marry a Turkmen citizen. The $50,000 requirement was scrapped in March. The obligation to own a house was also dropped.

Another change came last week, when Niyazov -- who likes to be referred to as Turkmenbashi, or "Father of All Turkmen" -- issued a new decree.

This one requires Turkmen citizens and their prospective foreign spouses to sign a contract determining how their property will be divided in case of divorce. As with the previous decree, his aim, Turkmenbashi said, was to protect Turkmens from unscrupulous spouses.

Niyazov's new decree was announced on national television on 9 June.

"In order to protect the rights of Turkmen citizens who intend to marry a foreign citizen or person with no citizenship, President Niyazov has signed a decree. Attached to this official document is a sample of an approved marriage contract," the male broadcaster said.

Now, as before, a foreigner wishing to marry a Turkmen citizen must live in Turkmenistan for at least a year before the wedding. There is also a mandatory three-month engagement period following the formal submission of the marriage application.

But observers still see the recent changes as a sign of progress.

Tajigul Begmedova, head of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, said the move is progressive compared to the former $50,000 fee. She spoke to RFE/RL from the Bulgarian city of Varna.

"Such a decision should have been made at the very beginning of independence when authorities, as they say, started creating a secular state. If they had done it then, we could have avoided so many tragedies and violations of human rights involving people who married foreigners. The abolition of the fee -- or qalin, as Turkmen say -- wasn't a result of government will. It came under pressure from the international community," Begmedova said.

Does the new move make it easier for foreigners to marry Turkmens?

One Uzbek woman, who asked to be called Nasiba, said her son had been unable to marry his girlfriend of four years because of the $50,000 requirement. But even now, she said, it is still difficult and expensive to marry a woman from Turkmenistan.

"We are going to kidnap her. There is no other way. We will have to cross the border. We'll put money in soldiers' pockets and overcome other obstacles," Nasiba said.

Even without the official fee, Turkmen women remain expensive brides. The tradition of qalin, or dowry, is so entrenched in society it remained common practice even during the Soviet era.

And it isn't cheap. For qalin, parents usually ask prospective husbands for 36 sheep, 36 dresses or their equivalent in fabric, at least four boxes of vodka, and $600.

That is why Nasiba's son, and others like him, turn to voluntary kidnapping as a last resort.

But difficulties will remain even for those couples who manage to marry.

Kumush, who eloped three years ago with her Uzbek groom, cannot hold Uzbek citizenship because her marriage was not officially registered. She is also without a residence permit, since she crossed the border illegally, without obtaining an Uzbek visa. Her children do not even have birth certificates. (Muhammad Tahir of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service contributed to this report, which was originally published on 10 June 2005.)


By Patrick Moore and Daniel Kimmage

The world recently marked the 16th anniversary of violence in Tiananmen Square. The bloodshed in Andijon, Uzbekistan took place scant weeks ago. Yet some observers have already pointed to parallels. In a 3 June discussion on RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, sociologist Komron Aliev said, "In its scale, what happened in Andijon can be compared to what happened in Peking on Tiananmen Square." Are the two events really comparable? And if similarities exist, what can Tiananmen Square tell us, 16 years later, about what occurred in Uzbekistan on 13 May?

Bloody Protests

On 4 June 1989, Chinese troops fired randomly into a crowd of tens of thousands gathered in Beijing's huge central Tiananmen Square as part of a nonviolent, pro-democracy protest. Bodies were quickly burned and blood stains washed away to cover up the extent of the atrocity. The exact number of victims will probably never be known, but estimates range anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 killed, with thousands more injured. Witnesses said that young teenagers were among the victims, most of whom, however, were university students. Veteran China-watcher Gordon G. Chang called it "state-sanctioned murder."

Another American Sinologist, Steven W. Mosher, wrote one year later in his "China Misperceived" that "for seven weeks in the spring of 1989, the world was treated to a spectacular show of defiance against the Chinese Communist regime and its aging leaders. By the end of May, a million or more people were surging through the streets of Beijing in protest of corruption, bureaucracy, and dictatorship. Never before had so many people gathered in the streets of Beijing." In the weeks leading up to the massacre, the authorities said they would not use force to end the demonstration, which added to the shock when the violence was finally unleashed. Veteran China-watcher Gordon G. Chang called it "state-sanctioned murder."

The protest was sparked by the death in April 1989 of Hu Yaobang, a former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary, who had been ousted in 1987 by China's most powerful leader, Deng Xiaoping, for being too reformist. Ironically, Hu's successor, Zhao Ziyang, was himself sacked by Deng in 1989 for being too sympathetic to the pro-democracy protesters.

After the Tiananmen massacre, the students and other intellectuals who made up the bulk of the protesters were stunned into silence. Many went underground, emigrated, became cynical, or just stayed clear of politics. Instead, the main impact of "Tiananmen," as the protest and crackdown came to be known abroad, was felt in the ruling elite.

Leadership Split

The essence of the problem was that Deng launched a reform program in 1978 aimed at modernizing the economy and the military and "opening to the outside world" while retaining the rule of the Leninist CCP. The leadership was faction-ridden, with some elements urging more reforms and others fearing that the essence of communist orthodoxy was being corrupted by the reform process. In the course of the 1980s, Deng launched two noisy but largely ineffective ideological campaigns aimed at reinforcing the role of party doctrine, but the economic reforms were never really halted.

The Tiananmen protests, however, brought matters to a head within the leadership. At a time when communism was dying in Eastern Europe and under threat in the Soviet Union, party hard-liners epitomized by Prime Minister Li Peng took an "I told you so" attitude and demanded a tough line against those perceived as challenging the CCP's monopoly on political power. Within the party, Tiananmen strengthened the hand of the hard-liners not only against Zhao and other reformists but also against Deng himself, who had hitherto overseen a balancing act between the various CCP factions.

The CCP's course was not clarified until 1992, when the reform course again went into the ascendancy, but only after damage had been done to the regime's credibility at home and abroad. In many ways, relations between the authorities and society today continue to be plagued by the contradiction inherent in promoting economic reforms and the "opening to the outside world" on the one hand and maintaining Leninist party rule on the other.

As Sinologist Joseph Fewsmith pointed out in his 2001 book "China Since Tiananmen," evidence of the contradiction could be noted even in top-level party pronouncements. In October 1989, Deng reportedly told visiting former U.S. President Richard M. Nixon that "stability overrides everything," whereas shortly before that, the party daily "Renmin Ribao" wrote that "we certainly must not stop eating for fear of choking."

Andijon Details Unclear

At first glance, the differences between Andijon and Tiananmen appear more striking than the parallels. For one, the most basic questions about what happened in Andijon on 13 May have, for now, two answers. Uzbek President Islam Karimov and other top officials have described a clash between religious extremists and police in which 173 people were killed. While independent observers agree that armed militants -- though not necessarily religious extremists -- started the violence with an attack on a police station and prison on the night of 12 May, they assert that a peaceful demonstration took place in the city the next day, and that government forces opened fire on unarmed demonstrators in the early evening, killing hundreds.

This confusion highlights another important difference between the two events. Tiananmen unfolded over seven weeks in the full glare of worldwide attention, giving its participants a chance to articulate their views. Andijon blazed up in the course of 24 hours, far from the eyes of the international community. And while we have reports indicating that the crowd in Andijon was motivated by general dissatisfaction with socio-economic conditions in Uzbekistan, any attempt to discern a concrete program from the various statements made on 13 May would require a considerable exercise of political forensics.

But if the preceding differences seem to argue against parallels between the two events, a further discrepancy proves instructive. The protests in Tiananmen Square resulted from a dispute over reforms and underscored rifts within the Chinese leadership over serious issues of domestic policy. The violence that ended the protests on Tiananmen Square may have betokened a dysfunctional political process that failed to provide lines of communication between rulers and ruled, yet the protests themselves were part of a larger debate over the nation's future.

Nothing of the sort was, or is, evident in Uzbekistan. If Deng was arguing for stability above all even as the party daily was stumping for reforms, the official message in Uzbekistan has been unambiguous -- stability above all. President Islam Karimov has staunchly advocated a policy of "gradualism" that virtually all outside observers have described as a refusal to carry out meaningful economic and political reforms. Subterranean rifts have long been rumored within the Uzbek elite, but they appear to follow clan lines, not policy divides. Consequently, as Uzbekistan's ruling elite faces the fallout from Andijon, it does so without any evident policy alternatives under consideration.

This last point is salient in light of the single obvious similarity between Andijon and Tiananmen. Tiananmen Square was sufficiently momentous to determine the context for subsequent events, driving some into stunned silence even as the leadership eventually decided on a reformist course in 1992. And if the tensions of Tiananmen remain unresolved, the impact of reforms has been significant enough to sustain an ongoing debate over the perils and promise of "the Chinese way."

For Uzbekistan, Andijon is a similarly momentous event, and one that is likely to dominate the domestic context for some time to come. Yet the crackdown comes against a backdrop of official domestic policy that betrays no sign of reformist inclinations, and the Uzbek government's initial reactions point only toward a hardening of an already hard line. There is still time for the Uzbek leadership to heed the limited lessons of China's post-Tiananmen path, but the violent tensions that surfaced in Andijon suggest that time may be running short. (Originally published on 9 June 2005.)