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Kyrgyz Ask, 'Where's The Gas? Won't You Have Some Dung?'

A resident of southern Kyrgyzstan prepares dinner in his apartment in April, after Uzbekistan cut off natural-gas imports.
Mavlyan Askarbekov and his five young friends are waiting to see if authorities press charges against them for their "flash-mob" protest on Ala-Too Square in Bishkek.

The six young people attempted on June 8 to present Kyrgyzstan's president, ministers, members of parliament, and especially the head of the Kyrgyzgaz state energy company with "tezek," the pressed dung bricks many in Central Asia continue to use for cooking fires.

The group call themselves "Tezekprom." The reason they staged this unusual protest was to bring attention to the continued lack of natural gas in the southern Osh region, more than two months after Gazprom, Russia's state-owned gas giant, bought Kyrgyzgaz for a symbolic $1.

Another detained Tezekprom demonstrator, Dayyrbek Orunbekov, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Azattyk, that he and his colleagues wanted to show Kyrgyzstan's top officials that dung sells for more money than the state gas company.

The Gazprom purchase of Kyrgyzgaz had been in the works for several years but was finally concluded in early April. Gazprom pledged to invest 20 billion rubles (about $570 million) to rehabilitate and modernize Kyrgyzstan's gas infrastructure as well as explore for domestic reserves.

But more than two months since the sale was officially settled, there has been no sign anything is getting accomplished and some people in Kyrgyzstan, especially in southern Kyrgyzstan, are wondering when their gas situation will improve.

It's true that in such a short time Gazprom could probably not have done much to change the current situation Kyrgyzstan's southern regions find themselves in. That's a problem Uzbekistan caused.

Just after Gazprom took control of Kyrgyzgaz and its assets, Kyrgyzstan's traditional gas supplier, Uzbekistan, cut supplies to the Osh region. Tashkent has a habit of reducing or cutting supplies to southern Kyrgyzstan as a way of expressing disapproval of decisions by the Kyrgyz government.

It also appears some in Kyrgyzstan's government blame Uzbekistan, not Gazprom, for the gas problem in the Osh region. On June 9, as the six young Tezekprom protesters were waiting in detention, Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Abdrakhman Mamataliev spoke the most dangerous words possible in Central Asia: cut the water supply.

It's not the first time a Kyrgyz official has brought up the subject of limiting water supplies to Uzbekistan to retaliate for gas cutoffs. It happened in the late 1990s as well.

Mamataliev was careful to ascribe such a cutoff to the need for repairs on the canals funneling the water to Uzbekistan. Those canals, Mamataliev pointed out, were built in 1957. He said the government was still reviewing the repair plan and that the "intention to block off the water canal is in no way connected to Uzbekistan's cutoff of gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan."

Even Kyrgyz media almost invariably mentioned Uzbekistan's suspension of gas supplies when reporting on the possible, temporary cutoff of water to Uzbekistan. But many reports omitted mention that the reason for the cutoff was that the gas contract with Uzbekistan expired.

It should be mentioned that since May 20 parliament has been reviewing a proposal to limit water supplies to Uzbekistan due to the low level of water in Kyrgyzstan's massive Toktogul Reservoir (That has led Kyrgyzstan to recently arrange for additional electricity supplies from Tajikistan.)

In 1997, Kyrgyzstan's parliament was talking about charging Uzbekistan for water and that did succeed in hastening Uzbek officials to reach a deal on renewing gas supplies. But it also resulted in Uzbekistan seizing possession of the Kempirabad Reservoir that straddled the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border in 1999.

There is some movement, finally. On June 10, the Kyrgyz news website reported that Gazprom officials were in Uzbekistan holding talks on renewing supplies to southern Kyrgyzstan.

However, Kyrgyzstan's government said the same day it would be considering the issue of suspending the flow of water to Uzbekistan in order to repair the canals.

-- Bruce Pannier, with contributions from Ulan Eshmatov and Gulaiym Ashakeeva of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and Alisher Siddiq of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service

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 the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.​

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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