WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 452, June 16, 2006
AKSY VIOLENCE RESURRECTED AS POLITICAL ISSUE President Bakiev comes under fire
for failing to identify culprits in 2002 bloodshed. By Cholpon Orozobekova in
COMMENT: DEALING WITH HIZB-UT-TAHRIR Repressive policies from Central Asia
governments have done nothing to curb the rise of the banned Islamic party. By
Saule Mukhametrakhimova in London
KAZAK PARLIAMENT PROBES BORDER SECURITY Violent incidents highlight gaps in
Kazakstan?s supposedly watertight southern frontier with Uzbekistan. By Daur
Dosybiev in Shymkent
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AKSY VIOLENCE RESURRECTED AS POLITICAL ISSUE
President Bakiev comes under fire for failing to identify culprits in 2002
By Cholpon Orozobekova in Bishkek
The shootings in the southern Kyrgyz district of Aksy may have happened four
years ago, but they continue to reverberate and are fast becoming an
embarrassment for the government of President Kurmanbek Bakiev.
A June 2 decision by Kyrgyzstan?s Supreme Court to block further investigation
of the death of six protesters at the hands of police in March has left
relatives of those killed both angry and disappointed that the Bakiev
administration has not fulfilled its problem to punish those responsible.
On March 17 that year, police units used live fire to disperse a demonstration
by Aksy residents protesting at the detention of their local member of
parliament, Azimbek Beknazarov. Four people died in the shooting, a fifth died
later of his injuries, and a sixth was killed the following day.
The use of extreme force, sanctioned by higher authorities, was a landmark
event that seemed to symbolise everything that was wrong with the regime of
President Askar Akaev.
The violence and the government?s subsequent unresponsiveness sparked a series
of massive demonstrations through the course of 2002. Although these eventually
died down, they were in some ways a forerunner of the protests of early 2005
which brought down the Akaev administration.
Four officials from Jalalabad region ? two prosecutors and two senior policemen
? were given jail sentences by a court martial in December 2002, although they
were not convicted of the shootings themselves. These convictions were in any
case quashed in May the following year.
In the new, more liberal environment that followed last year?s March
revolution, the new government promised to reopen the investigation, and
survivors were offered a chance of gaining justice at last.
Initially the signs were hopeful. Beknazarov, a leading driving force behind
the March revolution, was subsequently made Kyrgyzstan?s chief prosecutor and
soon initiated a formal investigation into Aksy. However, he was dismissed in
September last year - some say because he was ruffling too many feathers by
pursuing Akaev-era officials on other matters.
The prosecutor?s office continued to work on the case, and requested the
Supreme Court to authorise trial proceedings.
But in a major rebuff, the Supreme Court on June 2 effectively threw out the
request, ruling that there was no need to review the case of the four officials
already tried by a military court.
Aksy residents who had come to the capital Bishkek to hear the judgement were
angry at the outcome.
?We already had our suspicions when police officers gathered in the courtroom.
We already thought that the decision wouldn?t be fair - and it wasn?t,? one
Aksy resident told IWPR.
?They shouldn?t think we?ll stop at this. We may seek revenge, and blood may be
Immediately after the court ruling, around 20 Aksy residents went to the main
government building in Bishkek and tried to get in to see to President Bakiev.
Security guards would not let them enter, and some reports ? later denied by
the president?s office ? said they assaulted some people who forced their way
past a security checkpoint.
The following day, June 3, the president and Beknazarov?s replacement as
prosecutor, Kambaraly Kongantiev, did meet a group of Aksy residents, and
Bakiev promised that a new investigation would be held. It is unclear what the
scope of such an investigation would be, and whether Supreme Court ruling would
stand in its way.
Beknazarov - now a leading light in the new Kyrgyz opposition who feel the
revolution has been betrayed by half-measures and inaction on the part of
Bakiev?s government - was also at the meeting, and was clearly disappointed
with the result. On June 5, he went public, expressing regret that as an
opposition leader, he had helped Bakiev come to power.
?After the meeting with the president, we will see how far this case goes.
There were promises that the matter would be investigated fully and that
everything would be conducted with proper oversight. But my voters did not
receive a clear answer,? said Beknazarov.
?The main task of the new regime was above all else to punish those responsible
for this tragedy. If they don?t do this, then I won?t believe their other
Relatives of those killed at Aksy were similarly dissatisfied with the response
?We expected that after the March revolution, the regime would give a political
and legal assessment of the incidents at Aksy,? said Momunbek Chetinbaev, whose
son Begaly was among the four people killed outright in the initial police
action. ?We have come to Bishkek several times with our demands, and we have
met the president twice, but there have been no results.?
The last time that relatives met the president was on December 27 last year,
when they gave him a list of at least ten people whom they believe are
responsible for the shootings. The list includes former president Akaev,
currently living in Russia.
?If the regime makes the right decision and punishes the guilty, we won?t
resort to rash action. If the law doesn?t work and there is no justice, then...
we?ll solve our problems ourselves,? said Abdygul Sadyrov, who was shot in the
leg in the Aksy violence. ?The Akaev regime has gone, and the new one should
What to do about Aksy is rapidly becoming a political headache for Bakiev, as
Beknazarov and other opposition figures use it to measure his government?s
broader performance in the year since it came to power.
?The Aksy residents are angry that Kurmanbek Bakiev used their tragedy in his
electoral campaign last year, when he promised that he would investigate the
Aksy tragedy to the very end if he became president,? said Tolekan Ismailova,
head of the Citizens against Corruption group.
?He simply deceived them: all criminal cases have been dropped, and courts at
various levels have only looked at cases where local authorities [are accused
of] obstructing peaceful rallies? No one wants to hear that shots were fired
and people died.?
After meeting Bakiev, Beknazarov announced he was formally allying himself with
the Movement for Reforms, an umbrella group of opposition parties and movements
from which he had previously stayed aloof. He went on to ask the Movement to
take part in this year?s National Kurultai, an annual opposition assembly of
which Beknazarov is the main organiser.
This year?s Kurultai will take place in Jalalabad region in southern
Kyrgyzstan, and has the expressed aim of initiating the ?second stage of the
revolution?. This slogan echoes previous comments by Beknazarov that the events
of March 2005 were just phase one of a revolution that remains unfulfilled.
Bakiev also came under pressure when he met the government and parliament on
June 7, and with pressure groups at a separate meeting the same day. During the
latter, Aziza Abdrasulova, head of the Kylym Shamy human rights group, said, ?A
year has gone by, and now we are in the second year. Where are the results? Why
have the guilty among Akaev?s officials not been punished yet??
The president?s own position is difficult since when the Aksy violence took
place, he was Kyrgyz prime minister and an Akaev loyalist. He resigned in May
2002 and joined the opposition in 2004.
For the moment, Bakiev appears to be trying to avoid getting further embroiled
in the adversarial politics around Aksy, by promising another investigation but
saying his role prevents him from interfering.
?One can understand the Aksy residents. They are grieving, and I understand and
support them,? he said on June 7. ?But I cannot interfere in the affairs of the
Supreme Court and the prosecutor general?s office.?
Cholpon Orozobekova is a correspondent for Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of
COMMENT: DEALING WITH HIZB-UT-TAHRIR
Repressive policies from Central Asia governments have done nothing to curb the
rise of the banned Islamic party.
By Saule Mukhametrakhimova in London
The heavy-handed tactics that governments in Central Asia have deployed against
Hizb-ut Tahrir are not competing with the sophisticated approach the Islamic
movement is using to win support from disaffected groups across the region.
It is understandable why Central Asian leaders regard a group that aims to
overthrow secular governments and establish an Islamic state as a danger.
However, the response - harsh treatment of suspected Hizb-ut-Tahrir members -
far exceeds the real threat they pose.
Comparative figures in Kyrgyzstan - which has the most publicly visible
Hizb-ut-Tahrir community in the region and probably the second largest
membership after Uzbekistan - show that 10,000 people there have been converted
by Christian Protestant missionaries while only an estimated 3,000 have joined
the Islamic movement.
It is difficult to establish exact numbers of the group?s total membership in
Central Asia. Most estimates vary between 15,000 and 20,000, with
Hizb-ut-Tahrir activists quoting the upper end and human rights activists and
observers citing the lower end of the range.
The Central Asian governments bundle Hizb-ut-Tahrir together with al-Qaeda and
the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan as a terrorist organisation, and it is
banned across the region. As a result, thousands of suspected party members
have been put behind bars. Accused of attempting to topple governments, they
have received sentences to up to 15 years of imprisonment in Uzbekistan and
Tajikistan for crimes including possession of material such as leaflets and
video cassettes. Tashkent has accused Hizb-ut-Tahrir of involvement in an
outbreak of violence in 2004 that left 47 people dead.
Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan, which until recently took a more lenient approach,
have increasingly been following the Uzbek lead and carrying out their own
Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which originated in the Middle East in the Fifties, advocates
the creation of a caliphate, or idealised Islamic state.
The movement spread to Central Asia in the early Nineties following the
collapse of the Soviet Union. Its first foothold was in Uzbekistan, where it
won the biggest following, and it spread from there into neighbouring
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakstan.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir activists convey their message in simple terms: poverty and
inequality can be addressed once corrupt governments are replaced with the rule
of Sharia or Islamic law.
Most in Central Asia would not want to see Sharia become a reality. Although
the majority of people in the region consider themselves Muslims, they strongly
favour a secular state. Afghanistan?s experience with an Islamic state under
Taleban rule in 1996-2001 serves as a good illustration of what can happen when
a radical group imposes on others its vision of the ideal society.
Yet there is widespread support for the criticism that Hizb-ut-Tahrir levels
against corruption, inequality and the repression of devout Muslims. The call
for social justice strikes a chord with hundreds of thousands of people in
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan who have been forced to become migrant workers abroad
because of unemployment at home, as well as impoverished people in the
provincial towns and villages of Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan.
The authorities? inability to deal with Hizb-ut-Tahrir is attributable to a
combination of factors. As Yevgeni Zhovtis, the director of the Kazakstan
Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, explains, there is no political will
to acknowledge the cause-and-effect relationship between the failure of
governments? social policies, corruption and religious repression and
Hizb-ut-Tahrir?s widening social appeal.
Moreover, there is no real understanding of Hizb-ut-Tahrir?s sophisticated
approach to winning hearts and minds, or of its ability to alter its modus
operandi to suit the prevailing political climate.
?There is a lack of experts able to lead an informed debate,? concludes Zhovtis.
The authoritarian Central Asian regimes thus employ the only method of dealing
with dissent that they know: banning the organisation and cracking down on its
Some observers also point out that governments use the threat of Hizb-ut-Tahrir
as a convenient excuse to justify their policy of repressing opponents and
controlling the rise of political Islam in their states.
The spillover of Hizb-ut-Tahrir?s activities from Uzbekistan to neighbouring
countries at the end of the Nineties is a direct consequence of the harsh
policies pursued by the authorities in Tashkent. The Hizb-ut-Tahrir ideology
was carried by members who were forced to leave the country and find refuge
within ethnic Uzbek communities in neighbouring states.
The crackdown policy does not seem to have had any effect on the party, which
has found ways of surviving through years of harassment and arrests.
The thousands of jailed Hizb-ut-Tahrir members stick together even in Uzbek
jails. Solidarity unity gives them a sense of purpose and the courage to stage
protests against harsh prison conditions. This phenomenon was witnessed by
Uzbek journalist and civil society activist, Ruslan Sharipov, who spent ten
months in prison as a result of his human rights activities in 2003.
Jailed Hizb-ut-Tahrir activists in Kazakstan continue their missionary work
inside the prison system, recruiting followers from among the inmates.
Journalist Sergey Duvanov, imprisoned in 2003 for his political writing, has
reported how he observed a Hizb-ut-Tahrir activist in the prison recruit a
group of followers within three weeks.
Party members claim that their aim is to achieve political change through
peaceful means. But reports on the ground suggest that over the last couple of
years, some splinter groups have emerged that favour more radical action in
response to increasing pressure from regional governments.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir is constantly looking for ways to promote itself by attempting
to participate in politics and improving its public outreach.
Last July, Hizb-ut-Tahrir members in southern Kyrgyzstan organised a campaign
to support a candidate in the country?s presidential election. ?They publicly
backed a candidate who pledged to represent voters? interests based on Islamic
values he shares,? said Alisher Saipov, a journalist in southern Kyrgyzstan who
covered the topic extensively. It was the first time the party had an
opportunity to engage politically, a tactic which is central to its ideology
This ties in with Hizb-ut-Tahrir?s widely commented-on strategy, which seems to
consist of the following stages: attract new members, build up a deeply-rooted
network within the wider population, infiltrate government to win supporters
among the powers that be, and to prepare the ground for establishing an Islamic
state. This is not to say that political action in Kyrgyzstan means the party?s
campaign is entering another phase. Nevertheless, an analysis of Hizb-ut
Tahrir?s activities since the late Nineties, when the first trials brought them
into the public spotlight, suggests that its leadership has a clear idea of
what it wants and would seize any available opportunity to further its cause.
In the early days of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, propaganda literature was usually
exchanged among members of the group. Next, party activists targeted big
gatherings so as to spread the word. In Kazakstan, the first reported mass
distribution of leaflets took place during celebrations of the history of the
ancient town of Turkestan in 2000. This tactic was then followed by direct
mailing, where activists place leaflets in people?s post boxes.
Members are also proactive in getting their message across by initiating
contacts with local media and offering interviews and information. A personal
encounter I had two years ago with Vadim Berestov, a media-savvy Hizb-ut-Tahrir
representative in Shymkent, was a good example of this. Although wary of the
the group?s propaganda, I was surprised to find Berestov rather friendly and
Last year, Hizb-ut-Tahrir?s representative in Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan
managed to register a television and radio broadcasting company called Ong
(Consciousness). However, the company ceased broadcasting after just three days
when its partner, the private TV channel Keremet, cancelled the cooperation
agreement. A Hizb-ut-Tahrir spokesman claimed that Keremet caved in to pressure
from the authorities.
Another aspect of Hizb-ut-Tahrir?s activities that has helped gain it more
sympathy is the charitable work it does for vulnerable groups. This system was
initially used to provide support for families of jailed party activists, but
the network was subsequently extended beyond the party?s ranks to the wider
community. Party members would provide support to poor families in dispute with
the authorities over payment of utility bills, help out young families, and
organise free distribution of food during religious holidays.
This now appears to become part of the movement?s policy. According to a local
journalist, the practice resembles the way proselytising Protestant groups
attract new members in Central Asia through free gifts of food, clothes and
All this contributes to the image of Hizb-ut Tahrir as a party that really
cares about the common people, in contrast to the state which appears to have
forgotten about them.
Given the growing disparity between rich and poor in Central Asia, groups like
Hizb-ut-Tahrir have the potential to win plenty more sympathisers.
Saule Mukhametrakhimova is IWPR?s Central Asia project manager.
KAZAK PARLIAMENT PROBES BORDER SECURITY
Violent incidents highlight gaps in Kazakstan?s supposedly watertight southern
frontier with Uzbekistan.
By Daur Dosybiev in Shymkent
Two years after the border between Uzbekistan and Kazakstan was formally marked
off, local residents continue to slip back and forth between the two countries.
But although most are engaged in nothing more than small-time smuggling, they
risk being shot by the soldiers posted along the frontier.
Two incidents in which a young man and a 13-year old boy, both Kazakstan
nationals, were injured by Uzbek border guards hit the national headlines in
Kazakstan last month and prompted the country?s parliament to send a mission at
the beginning of June to see for themselves what was going on.
In the first of these incidents, Baurjan Akhmetov, 24, a resident of the
village of Kuanysh in the South Kazakstan region, was injured when he resisted
arrest by Uzbek border guards at the end of April. Akhmetov said afterwards
that he had been grazing livestock inside Kazakstan at the time, while Uzbek
frontier guards said he had stolen several metres of barbed wired from the
Akhmetov remains in hospital in the Kazak border town of Saryagash, where
doctors said he was in ?serious but stable? condition following a cranial
The second incident occurred a few days later, on May 2, when an Uzbek border
guard allegedly assaulted 13-year-old Janibek Medeubekov, who like Akhmetov is
a national of Kazakstan. Relatives said they witnessed the boy being hit in the
face with a rifle butt while he was taking a donkey cart to collect water from
a well in the border village Dostyk.
The official border runs right through this village, and although the well is
technically in Uzbekistan, border guards from both countries have continued to
allow everyone in the village to use it.
Doctors said they stitched up a cut on Medeubekov?s forehead and treated him
for mild concussion, but said he would be fine.
The two incidents led to Uzbek ambassador Turdikul Butoyarov being summoned to
the Kazak interior ministry where he was issued with a formal note of protest.
The Kazak parliament then called in the head of Kazakstan?s border guards,
Bolat Zakiev, to give an account of what was going on along the border. Zakiev
said that since the demarcation process began in 2003, his force had shot dead
one person and injured four, while their Uzbek counterparts had killed one and
Uzbek officials say they are simply trying to deter people from smuggling, and
this activity does seem to account for much of the illegal traffic of people
crossing the border. So blatant is the practice that it is common to see
clusters of donkey or horse-drawn carts waiting near the border whose owners
are waiting to ferry smuggled goods to the nearest town.
The commander of the Kazak border guards? southern zone, Murat Majitov,
accompanied the members of parliament on their fact-finding trip. Majit assured
his guests that his men had arrested over 20,000 people and confiscated
hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of smuggled goods in the last six years.
But the deputies were unimpressed, with one of their number, Valikhan
Kalijanov, saying ?The state border of Kazakstan is full of holes! Which way
are our border guards looking? Anyone can enter our country illegally without
?Why have the border guards kept quiet about this for so long? If journalists
hadn?t made a fuss, this problem would remain hidden.?
Until a few years ago, Kazakstan?s 2,350-kilometre southern frontier with
Uzbekistan was unmarked, with checkpoints operating only on the main roads.
However, from the late Nineties onwards the two governments began the process
of creating a formal border. First they had to decide exactly where lines drawn
on maps actually ran.
Once that process finished in 2002, Kazakstan and Uzbekistan began trading the
remaining disputed and unclear territories, including homes and farmland. When
the frontier was finally demarcated in early 2004, people living on or near it
had to pack up and leave their houses. Some villages like Dostyk were left with
the border cutting through them.
Local officials admit that border guards turn a blind eye to small-scale
smuggling in return for bribes. Residents of border areas will act as guides
for 2,000 tenge, about 16 US dollars. Many of the conflicts that arise seem to
happen when there is no financial arrangement with the frontier guards
?There are rumours that border guards take bribes from people who want to cross
the state border and give the money to their bosses, the officers and even
higher-up people,? said delegation leader, Serik Abdrakhmanov, who heads the
parliamentary committee for international affairs, defence and security. ?So
there is corruption. Have any of the [border guards] military been charged with
A senior border guards commander, Marat Alimjanov, said that in recent years,
35 Kazak border guards had been arrested for taking bribes. They were all
dismissed but not prosecuted.
Deputies also hauled local prosecutor Abtulatip Mustafaev over the coals after
he tried to downplay the alleged assault on Akhmetov by listing his past record
as a smuggler.
?You made all that up,? said an angry Saurbay Eszhanov, a member of the
parliamentary delegation. ?When we did our own investigation, we found no such
A local government official in Saryagash district, who asked to remain
anonymous, said smuggling was a product of the general poverty in the region,
as well as of price discrepancies between Kazakstan and Uzbekistan.
?There are almost a quarter of a million people living in our district.
Unemployment is very high - and the standard of living is even worse on the
Uzbek side,? he said.
?In addition, as a result of our countries? uncoordinated economic policies,
goods imported from third countries are much cheaper in Kazakstan than in
Uzbekistan. The prices of fruit and vegetables ? especially early on in the
season ? are far cheaper in Uzbekistan than they are here. How can people not
smuggle goods in such conditions??
Another reason why people regularly cross the frontier without permission is
that demarcation left some communities cut off from facilities such as schools,
or the well in Dostyk. Elsewhere in Saryagash district, ethnic Uzbek families
send their children to schools over the border in Uzbekistan, because there is
no Uzbek-language education in their own villages.
The Saryagash official who spoke to IWPR said the border would only begin to
operate properly when there were more forces to patrol it and modern
surveillance equipment was installed. He said more jobs must be created to
offer alternative livelihoods to smuggling, and the authorities needed to
conduct public education so that people understood what living next to an
international frontier meant.
Until that happens, the official predicted further incidents and more deaths.
Daur Dosybiev is an IWPR contributor in Shymkent.
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ISSN: 1477-7924 Copyright © 2006 The Institute for War & Peace Reporting
REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA No. 452