Textile industry chief sacked the day after workers took to the streets over 
unpaid wages.
By Aman Serdarov in Ashgabat and Bairam Nuriev in Turkmenabat

Residents of a poor part of Almaty scheduled for demolition continue protesting 
to demand they be allowed to stay where they are.
By Igor Kindopp and Gulmira Arbabaeva in Almaty 

Some say a recent demonstration by ethnic Uzbeks reflected political 
manoeuvring rather than a real sense of discrimination.
By Astra Sadybakasova in Bishkek 

Modern music and lack of interest inflict more damage on a unique art form than 
even the Taleban could do.
By Muhammad Tahir in Prague 

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Textile industry chief sacked the day after workers took to the streets over 
unpaid wages.

By Aman Serdarov in Ashgabat and Bairam Nuriev in Turkmenabat

The dismissal last month of Turkmenistan's minister in charge of the textile 
industry looked like just another routine sacking. But reports coming out of 
the country suggest Dortguly Aidogdiev may have been removed from his job 
following an unprecedented strike by textile workers. 

Aidogdiev was officially sacked because of "serious flaws in his work and abuse 
of office". As well as being in charge of the textile industry, he was deputy 
prime minister in a government in which President Saparmurad Niazov is prime 

As is commonly the case, President Niazov, who styles himself Turkmenbashi, 
held a cabinet meeting on May 16 at which he read out a list of Aidogdiev's 
alleged sins. 

With the disgraced minister present, the president said he had handed out 
senior posts to his relatives and individuals with criminal records, and said 
bribery had been rife in the ministry. 

"You have wrecked the sector," said Turkmenbashi. 

All this sounded like the standard charge-sheet that the president levels at 
officials who fall out of favour. It is always hard to assess how true such 
corruption allegations are, although they beg the question as to why no one in 
authority noticed theft on a large scale until the president's surprise 

In Aidogdiev's case, however, chronic financial mismanagement leading to 
industrial unrest is likely to have prompted Turkmenbashi to act. 

As part of a national-level investigation into the textile industry prompted by 
Aidogdiev's removal, the prosecutor's office in the eastern city of Turkmenabat 
has alleged substantial wrongdoing by managers.

Turkmenabat, formerly Charjou, is the main city of the Lebap region and has a 
number of plants producing cotton and woolen fabrics, and the country's only 
silk weaving factory. Unprocessed cotton is Turkmenistan's second most 
important export after gas, but in recent years the government has encouraged 
local manufacturing of jeans and other finished products.

Prosecutors allege that these factories ran a double-accounting system so that 
it looked as though the workers were being paid regularly when in fact wages 
remained unpaid for months. 

"The management of these enterprises created a strange situation where on 
paper, in the accounts, everything looks fine and prosperous, but in reality 
the workers' pockets were empty," said a prosecution service officer who asked 
not to be named.

Irina Kubataeva, who has a white-collar job at the silk factory, said the false 
reports were sent up to the ministry in the capital Ashgabat, but she said the 
plant's accountants were merely obeying instructions from the ministry, which 
was well aware of what was going on.

"These were orders from above," she said. "The initiative came directly from 
the ministry."

In reality, prosecutors say, managers at the Turkmenabat plants were not paying 
their workers, so that by May, wages were five months in arrears. 

Not only that, but when prosecution staff paid surprise visits to the factories 
they found that managers were forcing staff to work weekends without extra pay. 

"We've been working under that system for the last six months," said Jora 
Mamedov, who works at a factory making cotton wool. "They make us come to work 
on Saturdays and Sundays and if you don't, you get sacked immediately."

Lebap was not the only region affected by these problems. In the Ahal region, 
where the capital Ashgabat is located, anger over unpaid wages even prompted a 
case of industrial action - almost unheard of in this tightly-controlled police 

On May 15, the day before Aidogdiev's public dismissal, workers at four 
cotton-processing plants in the Kaakhka district, 100 kilometres from the 
capital, went on strike because they had not been paid since the beginning of 
the year. The strikers held a demonstration in the central square of the town 
of Kaakhka to make their concerns heard. 

There were no precise numbers of the number of people involved in the strike 
and protest meeting, but participants interviewed later suggested that about 
half of a total workforce of around 300 came out.

One of those who took part in the demonstration said they had acted out of 
desperation as the wage arrears compounded a harsh working environment, "We 
work six days a week in two shifts. Health and safety conditions leave a lot to 
be desired especially in the spinning department. The air is full of small 
cotton particles which we breathe in all the time.

"Our [monthly] wages don't go over 100 [US] dollars. We don't get extra pay for 
working in hazardous conditions as they say we get [free] milk instead. We know 
we're entitled to the payments but our unions do not support us." 

He concluded, "What other options were left to us? We decided to go to the 
square and stage a protest."

Another man said he was well aware of the possible consequences of the strike 
action, "We'll probably lose our jobs now. But there was no other option - 
either way we had nothing to feed our families with."

Wage arrears are common in the public sector, but their impact is perhaps 
hardest on small towns heavily dependent on a single industry, because the 
whole local economy is affected by the lack of income. People in such towns 
find it harder to sustain themselves by other means than those in rural areas 
who can to an extent live off the land, or in the cities where some find work 
as market traders. 

The investigation into the textile industry appears to have had one positive, 
if unreported, outcome - managers have started paying out some of the back 

But at the same time the authorities look set to pick off anyone identified as 
a ringleader of the strike. A national security ministry staffer who asked to 
remain anonymous told IWPR that officers had been sent to the plants in Kaakhka 
to find out who was behind the strike. 

Cotton plant worker Muhamed Berdyev said, "After the strike we got our wages, 
but only up till the end of February. They have promised to pay off all the 
arrears - but now we are in danger of being fired."

Aman Serdarov and Bairam Nuriev are pseudonyms of journalists in Turkmenistan. 
Names of workers interviewed for this story have been changed in the interests 
of their safety. 


Residents of a poor part of Almaty scheduled for demolition continue protesting 
to demand they be allowed to stay where they are.

By Igor Kindopp and Gulmira Arbabaeva in Almaty 

Shantytown residents Kazakstan's second city Almaty have launched a hunger 
strike in an attempt to force the authorities to climb down on a plan to 
demolish hundreds of homes. 

The city administration has made several attempts this year to clear away 
townships that have sprung up around the edges of the former capital in recent 
years, but has encountered stiff resistance from residents.

For more than a month, the focus of attention has been Bakai. On several 
occasions, squads of riot police have entered the area as protection for court 
officials serving eviction orders and teams of demolition men. Each time they 
have managed to destroy only a few homes before being repulsed by angry locals.

There were similar scenes in Shanyrak and Aigerim, two other illegal townships, 
in March and April.

In the latest incident on May 31, nearly 400 policemen cordoned off parts of 
Bakai while the demolition squad took down four houses. 

Locals were taken by surprise, as many were attending a party in a nearby field 
to mark Children's Day in Kazakstan. Ainur Kurmanov, the leader of Kazakstan 
Socialist Resistance, a group which has been supporting the residents' 
protests, said, "It was all ruined because people ran to the demolition site 
immediately after they got the news, 40 to 60 minutes into the celebrations." 

According to Kurmanov, residents angered at the lack of advance warning 
confronted the security forces. 

"Police were breaking into houses. After crashing through the door, they threw 
all the inhabitants' belongings into the street. Once they had done four 
houses, they went up the hill, and after destroying one more house there, they 
moved to the other side of the village." 

By this time, a crowd had gathered and some - mainly teenagers - began throwing 
stones, sticks and bottles at the police. The protesters foiled attempts to 
demolish a sixth house, said Kurmanov. 

"There were many different clashes between locals and police. One of the police 
units began dispersing a crowd of women gathered nearby... using special [riot] 
equipment," he continued. "Some of the women were injured and in the chaos a 
pram with a small baby inside was overturned." 

The heat was turned up when rumours spread that three young children had died 
after being trapped inside one of the buildings that were demolished. After the 
story was repeated on an opposition website, Almaty police quickly put out a 
statement saying the reports of deaths were untrue.

The police statement said that while the fifth house was being taken down in 
line with the court order, "local residents began behaving aggressively" and 
police were forced to step in. 

The case of Bakai and other shantytowns subject to demolition orders has been 
taken up by opposition groups, and their representatives used a parliamentary 
session held the same day to present their concerns to the legislature. In 
response, 36 of the 77 members of parliament wrote to Kazakstan's chief 
prosecutor requesting a halt to the demolitions. 

But a motion by deputy Amalbek Tshanov to hold a formal debate on the issue and 
question Almaty mayor Imangali Tasmagambetov and Kazak interior minister 
Baurjan Muhametjanov has yet to be acted on.

Tensions increased further on June 4, when about 25 activists from Bakai 
residents began a hunger strike; the number rose to 40 the following day. 

Their main demand is to be granted legal rights to the land on which they have 
built houses.

"We want to legalise our rights to these land plots, because like all citizens 
of this republic we have equal rights to land," a female hunger striker, who 
did not want to be named, told IWPR. "We are not breaking any laws and we have 
only taken this step in order to achieve justice." 

Residents say many of them have been living in Bakai for a decade. Some had 
acquired residence papers before 1999, when the land on which Bakai and other 
townships stand was acquired by the city of Almaty. But their documents were 
never recognised by the authorities, who have ruled that the land is illegally 
occupied and subject to redevelopment. 

Because the area does not technically exist in the eyes of the municipal 
authorities, there are no public utilities such as water, electricity and gas. 

Alikhan Ramazanov, the head of Alga, the successor to the opposition Democratic 
Movement of Kazakstan, said Bakai residents had heard their land was to be 
redeveloped into a motor-racing track. 

The strength of the residents' legal position remains unclear, but it appears 
that they may be fighting a losing battle as the Almaty authorities have shown 
little sign of backing down.

"Many international standards were violated during the demolition of homes in 
Bakai," said Zhemis Turmagambetova, the director of the Human Rights Charter 

In an attempt to clarify the situation, IWPR approached the Almaty city 
administration, but was told that all queries had to be made in writing to the 
land affairs department and would only receive a response after they had been 
reviewed, which might take 30 days.

"At the moment, the situation is up in the air, and demolition attempts may be 
resumed," said Kurmanov. 

Gulmira Arbabaeva is a correspondent for the Panorama newspaper. Igor Kindopp 
is an independent journalist in Almaty.


Some say a recent demonstration by ethnic Uzbeks reflected political 
manoeuvring rather than a real sense of discrimination.

By Astra Sadybakasova in Bishkek

Demonstrations are so commonplace in Kyrgyzstan that a gathering of 700 people 
in the centre of the southern city of Jalalabad might seem nothing out of the 
ordinary. But the May 27 rally stood out as the first time the highly sensitive 
issue of Kyrgyzstan's large Uzbek minority had brought people onto the streets 
since last year's March revolution.

The demonstration was overshadowed in the news by a rally at least ten times 
the size that took place in Bishkek the same day. At both events, participants 
voiced similar concerns about the failure of President Kurmanbek Bakiev's 
government to implement reforms since it came to power last year.

But the organisers of the Jalalabad protest had other, more specific gripes, 
complaining that Uzbeks lack political representation and demanding that their 
language be upgraded to official status. 

Concentrated in the three southern regions of Osh, Jalalabad and Batken, Uzbeks 
account for some 16 per cent of Kyrgyzstan's population, making them the second 
largest ethnic group. 

However, Uzbeks only hold eight of the 75 seats in the national parliament, 
which works out at 11 per cent. The protesters demanded that their community be 
given a quota of government posts proportionate to their numbers. 

One of the eight Uzbeks in parliament, Kadyrjan Batyrov, who is head of the 
Uzbek National Cultural Centre of Jalalabad, a non-government community 
organisation, said his electorate had taken to the streets because of many 
unresolved problems including discrimination. 

"All the letters we have sent to key figures ruling the country over the last 
15 years have failed to elicit a response," said Batyrov. Speaking of the 
Bakiev administration, he said, "They have always asked us to be patient and 
wait a little longer. The same was true of the previous president [Askar 
Akaev]. They have promised to resolve all the issues, but so far it has only 
been talk." 

A statement issued by Jalalabad's Uzbek Cultural Centre at its annual 
conference in January said the minority suffered harassment for police and 
other authorities, and was increasingly the target of ethnic hostility. 

The language dispute is over official status. At the moment, Kyrgyz is 
officially the "state language" and Russian, widely used as a lingua franca, is 
an "official language". While Uzbek is not used in official documents or public 
life, it is used as the teaching medium at special primary and secondary 
schools, at the Kyrgyz-Uzbek University in Osh, and at the People's Friendship 
University which Batyrov founded in Jalalabad. Uzbek is a Turkic language like 
Kyrgyz, but differs significantly from it. 

In Bishkek, Alexander Katsev, who heads the international journalism department 
at the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University, saw no reason why Uzbek could not be 
used more widely. 

"In a democracy, people should be able to communicate and study in their own 
language in areas of dense [single-ethnicity] population," he said. "Since 
there are Uzbek schools, why not translate some official documents into Uzbek? 
That wouldn't go against the constitution." 

However, political scientist Turat Akimov was concerned that with a population 
of just five million, Kyrgyzstan is too small to cope with allowing linguistic 
diversity at an official level. The Russian Federation had many times its 
population, yet used only Russian as the state language, he said.

That appears to be the position the Bakiev government is taking. At a meeting 
with the OSCE High Commissioner for Ethnic Minorities, Rolf Ekeus, on June 2, 
State Secretary Adakhan Madumarov said Uzbek could not be granted official 
status because "we are a unitary state, not a confederation". Other ethnic 
communities might start demanding similar rights for their languages as well, 
he warned. 

Some of those interviewed for this report were angry that the Uzbeks were 
pushing for greater rights.

"If people are dissatisfied with their life here, they can always move to 
another country. No one will stop them," said Kuvanychbek Idinov, an ethnic 
Kyrgyz former member of parliament who lectures at the Kyrgyz-Turkish Manas 

But most expressed measured concern that the Jalalabad protest ran the risk of 
inciting ethnic strife. Ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the 
southern Osh region in 1990, when Kyrgyzstan was still part of the Soviet 
Union, left a strong imprint on the country, resulting in a reluctance to 
over-emphasise ethnic divisions. 

This point was made at the May 30 debate in parliament by Davron Sabirov, who 
represents the Uzbek community of Osh region. Recalling the bloodshed of 1990, 
Sabirov reminded everyone of the sensitivities involved and suggested that 
holding a demonstration was the wrong way of going about things. 

Another reason for concern is the divide between northern Kyrgyzstan, where 
political power and much of the country's economic activity reside, and the 
poorer south, where many people - regardless of ethnicity - feel inadequately 

A more recent political factor in the mix is the perception articulated in the 
Jalalabad Uzbeks' January letter that the Bakiev administration is more 
definably Kyrgyz - and thus less friendly towards minorities - than its 
predecessor under Akaev. 

According to Alisher Saipov, a journalist in Osh, "There is no sense that 
ethnic minorities' rights are being discriminated against, although there are 
some signs of [Kyrgyz] nationalism." 

Anvar Artykov, a prominent Uzbek politician from Osh, suggested to IWPR that 
the Bakiev government was in some way complicit in provoking the Jalabad 

Last year, Artykov was a leading figure in protest movement in southern 
Kyrgyzstan that led to the March revolution. His ally President Bakiev 
subsequently made him governor of Osh region, but dismissed him in December in 
arbitrary fashion. No friend of the government now, he is suspicious of its 

"There is no sense to this rally - discrimination against Uzbeks is an entirely 
invented problem, an attempt by the authorities to deflect public attention 
from major problems. In short, it is a provocation in which the White House 
[government] is implicated," he said. 

Political analyst Talant Momunov, who is Kyrgyz, also believes the rally in 
Jalalabad was not a genuine grassroots action, although he did not say who he 
thought was behind it. 

"Someone is clearly interested in inciting animosity between the two ethnic 
groups," he told IWPR. "Although Kyrgyz and Uzbeks have common linguistic and 
historical roots, meeting the [Uzbeks'] demand would be extremely difficult." 

Saipov agreed that there is a danger public protests could be manipulated, 
"Holding a rally was the wrong method to choose for addressing these problems. 
In an already unstable political climate, there could be provocations by both 
Kyrgyz and Uzbeks." 

Astra Sadybakasova is a correspondent for the Argumenty i Fakty v Kyrgyzstane 


Modern music and lack of interest inflict more damage on a unique art form than 
even the Taleban could do.

By Muhammad Tahir in Prague

Sitting cross-legged on a carpet, Araz Baghshi strikes up the first notes in a 
mournful song about love on a "dutar" or traditional Turkmen lute. 

Araz, 62, who recently gave what he said would be his final public concert, is 
regarded as one of the last remaining classical singers of the ethnic Turkmen 
of Afghanistan. 

"I am not optimistic about the future of this music in Afghanistan," he said. 

Araz, whose title "baghshi" denotes a solo singer, belongs to the high-art 
Turkmen classical tradition rather than the folk music of the villages.

"The classical songs performed by baghshis always held an important place in 
Turkmen culture," he explained. "Performances by baghshis were an especially 
important part of wedding parties, where they used to sing late into the 

Serdar Antep, a music professor at Bilkent University in the Turkish capital 
Ankara, is an expert on Central Asian music who fears that the Turkmen 
classical style and the oral tradition it preserves are under threat.

Professor Antep says very little is known about the musical forms of the 
Turkmen of Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkmenistan.

Most of the Turkmen minority in Afghanistan belong to the Ersari tribe and 
inhabit a thin strip of territory running nearly the entire length of the north 
of the country, from Herat in the west to Kataghan in the north-east. They live 
a rural farming life, while smaller numbers reside in the capital Kabul, where 
they work in the carpet trade, which is dominated by the famous red-coloured 
Turkmen rugs. 

These days, there are very few professional baghshis and top-notch players of 
the dutar. Where musicians exist, they are generally rural folksingers or flute 
players, while women are restricted to the tambourine and jew's harp - and they 
can be seen playing and dancing only in the special all-female area at a 
wedding party. 

The cultural disruption of the last two decades, in which many Turkmen left 
their homes in northern Afghanistan to live as refugees in Pakistan, was 
compounded by the imposition of Taleban rule in this region in 1998. The 
Islamic movement proscribed most art forms, including the secular tradition of 
the baghshi. 

But Araz Baghshi argues that Turkmen music is now in worse shape than it was in 
the Taleban years, when at least there was a covert demand for it. 

"Today's younger generation think it's a sign of backwardness to listen to 
classical Turkmen music, and such views have meant baghshis have been replaced 
at weddings by pop singers who can't even sing in the Turkmen language 
properly," he said.

Pop and rock music, and even hip-hop, are increasingly popular and are 
displacing the older styles. 

Kabul-based social worker and Turkmen language expert Parween Tahir says such 
modern influences are unavoidable. But she believes increased cultural contacts 
with Turkmen communities abroad could help revitalise the old forms.

However, Muhammad Mousa, a former baghshi now living in Turkey, blames Turkmen 
community leaders in Afghanistan for failing to support an indigenous art form 
whose professional performers found it hard to survive the years of war and 

And he holds out little hope that help will come from abroad. "The young 
Turkmen generation in Pakistan and Iran are especially far removed from our 
musical culture, since they've grown up under the influence of many other 
entirely different cultures such as Punjabi and Indian," he said. 

Inside the country, Turkmen singing styles have been modified by the influence 
of the more numerous Uzbeks, who speak a related Turkic language but have their 
own musical forms. 

That influence was dictated by the harsh politics of the time, argues Abdul 
Nabi, who runs a music shop in the Kunduz region.

"During the two decades of mujahedin struggle against central government, 
Turkmen [militia] commanders always served in a low-ranking capacity under the 
leadership of Uzbek and Tajik commanders," he explained. 

"This fact automatically led them to choose Uzbek-style songs at their 
late-night musical parties, which were attended by their Uzbek and Tajik 
bosses. Since these dancing parties were the only form of entertainment for the 
military, this [style] was soon transmitted to the whole Turkmen community via 
these young soldiers."

Even Ahmed Baghshi, who died in 1995 and is regarded as perhaps the pre-eminent 
baghshi of the late 20th century, is said to have adopted a more Uzbek style in 
his latter years. 

Mousa Baghshi says it made sense for singers to change their style both to earn 
more money and to please the Uzbek warlords who called the tune in every sense.

There are some signs of interest in keeping the music alive. Apart from Araz, 
at least two other recognised master musicians give performances, Hemra Baghshi 
and Server Baghshi. And after decades of silence, at last some of their music 
is being broadcast on the Turkmen-language service of Radio Kabul. 

In his Kunduz shop, Abdul Nabi is busy converting aging tape recordings into 
digital-format CDs. But apart from such private projects, there are no efforts 
to carry out more comprehensive archiving to prevent old recordings 
deteriorating and being lost forever.

As Professor Antep said, "There is no proper institution teaching and promoting 
musical culture in northern Afghanistan. There are just a few individuals 
trying to keep it alive, entirely on their own."

Muhammad Tahir is a Prague-based journalist and writer. 

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IWPR's Reporting Central Asia provides the international community with a 
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