WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 462, 26 August, 2006
ANDIJAN REFUGEES SENT BACK TO UZBEKISTAN The Kyrgyz government stands accused
of trading refugee rights for a better political relationship with Tashkent.
By Taalaibek Amanov in Bishkek for IWPR
UNBLOCKING TAJIKISTAN'S GIANT DAM PROJECT Tajik officials complain Russia's
RUSAL firm is not moving ahead fast enough on a major hydropower project. By
Ramzan Sharipov in Dushanbe
TURKMENISTAN: TESTING TIME FOR TEACHERS Niazov puts new squeeze on education
spending by making it harder for teachers to get pay increases. By IWPR staff
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ANDIJAN REFUGEES SENT BACK TO UZBEKISTAN
The Kyrgyz government stands accused of trading refugee rights for a better
political relationship with Tashkent.
By Taalaibek Amanov in Bishkek for IWPR
International groups have voiced concern that the Kyrgyz authorities is quietly
returning refugees and asylum-seekers to Uzbekistan in contravention of
Kyrgyzstan won international plaudits last year for allowing 440 people who
fled following the May 13 violence in the Uzbek city of Andijan, where
journalists and human rights groups reported hundreds of civilians killed by
security forces. Now it appears to be buckling to pressure from its bigger
neighbour to deliver people wanted for questioning, even if they are
technically entitled to the Kyrgyz government's protection as holders of or
applicants for refugee status.
The Bishkek office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR,
issued a statement on August 24 saying it was worried about the fate of five
individuals based in the city of Osh, four of whom disappeared last week. All
five had applied for refugee status.
UNHCR said it had received credible information that at least two of them were
now in custody across the border in Andijan.
"UNHCR regrets the obvious erosion of the Kyrgyz asylum system, which until
recently was an exemplary one in Central Asia," the statement concluded.
The US-based watchdog Human Rights Watch named the four asylum-seekers detained
most recently as Ilhom Abdunabiev, Bakhtiar Ahmedov, Valim Babajanov, Saidullo
Shakirov, while Isroil Kholdorov, an Uzbek opposition activist, disappeared on
"We're afraid these men have been handed over to Uzbek authorities and that
their lives are in danger," said Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia
director Holly Cartner, referring to the four most recent cases. "Kyrgyzstan is
responsible for the safety of refugees and asylum seekers in its territory, and
it must find these men."
The previous day, the United States embassy in Bishkek expressed concern at the
detention and likely return to Uzbekistan of two registered refugees, and urged
Kyrgyzstan to respect international conventions on refugee rights and torture.
The embassy statement referred to members of an earlier group comprising four
registered refugees - Jahongir Maksudov, Rasul Pirmatov, Odiljon Rahimov and
Yakub Tashbaev - and asylum-seeker Fayezjon Tajihalilov, who were extradited to
Uzbekistan on August 9.
In the latest case, Kyrgyz authorities have responded by denying everything.
Police in Osh say they were not involved in any detentions, while the
prosecutor general's office said it had not received any Uzbek requests to
extradite people who had applied for refugee status.
That claim is disputed by Aziza Abdrasulova, the director of Kylym Shamy, a
human rights centre, who said the Uzbek authorities have informed their Kyrgyz
counterparts of 26 people they want to have detained.
"At present, the [Kyrgyz] state is not fulfilling its obligations with regard
to refugees, and is in fact violating these obligations through such actions
[as secret detention and extradition]. I think that if Kyrgyzstan cannot or
does not wish to fulfil its international obligations, it must revoke them.
Then the whole world will know... and refugees will not come here," said
Khurnisa Makhardinova, a lawyer with the Adilet human rights group, which works
on refugee rights, said disappearances were now a regular occurrence, "It is
becoming the system, and has reached the point where many refugees want to
return home because they're scared they may be forcibly and secretly
Makhardinova attacked the authorities' response - or rather failure to respond
- calling it "a policy of silence".
"They pretend nothing is happening, even though this is above all the
responsibility of the authorities," she added.
Tursunbek Akunov, the chairman of Kyrgyzstan's official human rights
commission, told IWPR his agency was looking into the matter, and blamed police
chiefs for ignoring Kyrgyzstan's own laws and pandering to Uzbekistan.
"The Kyrgyz authorities place insufficient value on the UN convention on
refugees, while our secret services carry out the bidding of their Uzbek
colleagues," said Akunov, alleging that unless action was taken against the
officers concerned, Kyrgyzstan would face international ignominy.
Political analyst Nur Omarov is in no doubt why the government of President
Kurmanbek Bakiev, which swept to power on a wave of pro-democracy hopes in
March 2005, now appears to have dumped its concern for human rights.
Uzbekistan is a large and irascible neighbour, and the Kyrgyz depend on it for
energy supplies. The leadership in Tashkent was alarmed by the March
revolution, in which Askar Akaev was summarily removed as Kyrgyz president, and
angered by Bishkek's decision to allow 400-plus refugees to go abroad, since
the implication was that it was unsafe for them to go back to Uzbekistan.
Bakiev is due to visit Tashkent at the end of September, and a few swift
extraditions may improve relations beforehand.
"By doing this, Kyrgyzstan has decided to show loyalty to Uzbekistan," said
Omarov. "The aim is to restore the economic and political partnership before
winter sets in. Kyrgyzstan is reliant on Uzbek gas supplies, so extraditing
refugees may be a step to prevent possible hitches during the negotiations on
gas supplies and debt payments."
Meanwhile, the remaining refugees and asylum-seekers in southern Kyrgyzstan
fear they will be used as currency in the transaction between the two
"I am so tired of being a refugee that I sometimes think that if I get this
status, I will hand myself over to the Uzbek authorities," said one young man
who is an asylum-seeker in Osh. He is well aware of the consequences - his
younger brother was recently extradited to 13 years in prison after being
extradited from Kyrgyzstan.
"I am scared of being followed, so I try to stay inconspicuous. There are
rumours among the refugees that the Uzbekistan secret services kidnap refugees
and take them across the border by force. The recent disappearances confirm
this," he said.
A human rights activist who came to Kyrgyzstan eight months ago said he knew of
14 people who had disappeared, most likely abducted by the Uzbek secret police.
"We thought Kyrgyzstan was a more democratic country that Uzbekistan, and until
recently we felt fine here. But recent developments show Kyrgyzstan is
gradually turning into a totalitarian state where dissent is crushed," he said.
"It is frightening to go out of doors because you don't know whether you'll be
kidnapped by the Uzbek secret services. We hide in our rented apartments like
Taalaibek Amanov is the pseudonym of an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.
(The names of interviewees have been withheld out of concern for their safety.)
UNBLOCKING TAJIKISTAN'S GIANT DAM PROJECT
Tajik officials complain Russia's RUSAL firm is not moving ahead fast enough on
a major hydropower project.
By Ramzan Sharipov in Dushanbe
The Tajik government is trying to recruit the Russian government to help speed
up construction of a giant hydroelectric power scheme, but analysts say the
tactic could backfire.
At a July 21 press conference in Dushanbe, Tajik energy minister Abdullo Yerov
reported that a phone conversation between presidents Imomali Rahmonov and
Vladimir Putin had resulted in a verbal agreement that the Russian government
would provide direct funding for the work needed to complete the dam, which if
it reaches a planned 335 metres will be the world's highest.
If this report is confirmed and Moscow goes ahead with the funding, it could
unblock a process that appears to have run into trouble following the initial
optimism that surrounded a deal with Russian aluminium giant RUSAL. A two
billion US dollar package agreed by RUSAL in 2004, covering the Rogun dam and
aluminium production, gave rise to hopes that the troubled construction project
would be resurrected at last.
RUSAL's main interest is in generating electricity for its investment in the
giant Tajik aluminium plant at Tursunzade, with a possibility that it will also
build a new smelter close to the dam. Aluminium production is notoriously
energy-hungry, and a mountainous country like Tajikistan is ideally placed to
power the industry. The dam turbines could generate sufficient electricity to
run the smelters, meet much of Tajikistan's domestic needs, and sell power to
Work on the Rogun hydroelectric scheme, on the Vakhsh river in southern
Tajikistan, began back in the Seventies, but remained incomplete by the time
the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. Tajikistan, the smallest and poorest Central
Asian republic, quickly descended into civil war and economic collapse, and for
the next decade there was no prospect of the project resuming.
But nearly two years on, officials in Tajikistan are complaining that the
Russian company has not started practical work.
First Deputy Energy Minister Pulod Muhiddinov reported on July 24 that the
Russian firm was still assessing the state of the structure left at Rogun,
which has been battered by years of neglect and flooding. This should be
completed by the end of August, but Muhiddinov complained that his ministry was
unsure how matters would proceed after that.
"Perhaps RUSAL will wake up and start construction," he said.
RUSAL counters that the Tajik position is a complete misreading of the facts,
and an unhelpful one at that. Its office in Dushanbe was quick to respond,
rejecting suggestions that it was deliberately holding up the work. It said
part of the problem was that many of the enquiries on technical matters it had
addressed to the Tajik government were simply ignored.
"Tajik officials have put words into Vladimir Putin's mouth which he did not
say," said Konstantin Zagrebelny, RUSAL's man in Dushanbe. "The irresponsible
interpretations that Tajik officials have made of phrases or words used by the
Russian president cause only bewilderment among Russian members of the
intergovernmental commission and the Russian [government] departments involved
in this project."
Apart from the slow start-up, Tajik officials are also unhappy about the
technical plans RUSAL has come up with. The Russian firm wants to build the dam
up in stages, eventually reaching a height of 280 metres, while the Tajiks are
insisting on the original specifications laid down in 1978 which would make the
structure 55 metres higher. There is also disagreement about the materials to
According to Rasul Sattarov, an independent economist, the dispute is also due
to the diverging interests of RUSAL, which wants to power its aluminium
projects, and the Tajik government, which needs to satisfy a growing demand for
electricity in the rest of the economy as well.
The suspicion is that RUSAL would be happy with a lower and thus cheaper dam
which would be adequate for its own needs, but Sattorov said this would not be
in Tajikistan's interests.
"That is why the government is trying to put pressure on RUSAL via the Russian
government," he said.
However, Sattorov cautioned that this could be a miscalculation - RUSAL is a
major player by any standards, and is also seen as close to the Kremlin.
"Given the friendly relations between Putin and [RUSAL chairman Oleg]
Deripaska, the Russian government may not react in Tajikistan's favour," he
Meanwhile, the Tajiks appear to believe government-to-government contacts are
the right way to proceed. "Tajikistan and Russia intend to resolve the dispute
surrounding the construction of this major Central Asian hydroelectric station
at state level," an anonymous source in the Tajik government told IWPR.
The next opportunity for this will come when an intergovernmental economic
commission meets in September.
Ramzan Sharipov is the pseudonym of an independent journalist in Dushanbe.
TURKMENISTAN: TESTING TIME FOR TEACHERS
Niazov puts new squeeze on education spending by making it harder for teachers
to get pay increases.
By IWPR staff in London
The Turkmen president has taken another swipe at the country's hard-pressed
education sector by setting tough new teaching grades to make it harder for
teachers to qualify for higher salaries.
Those who fall short of the requirements for the lowest grade retain their
jobs, but are likely to be the first to go should the authorities choose to
slash teaching numbers in future, analysts believe.
The latest cost-cutting exercise by President Saparmurat Niazov, better known
as Turkmenbashi, which comes on the eve of the new school year, has deepened
the gloomy mood of a profession that has the experienced numerous blows over
the last ten years.
The introduction of new pay grades appears to have been prompted by Niazov's
conviction, expressed in a July cabinet meeting, that teachers "were eating up"
most of the government's budget.
The president's assessment is hard to fathom as the education budget has been
shrinking for over a decade. As a result, schooling has been cut from ten to
nine years; the number of schools using Russian, Uzbek and Kazak minority
languages has been reduced; and the number of subjects taught has been slashed.
According to the new teaching requirements, which come into force this month,
teachers will have to have taught pupils who've won school prizes to qualify
for the lowest pay grade; and they will require a PhD and to have published
academic papers and manuals to achieve the highest one.
But, most controversially, to be considered at all for the new pay awards, a
teacher will have to have published a number of articles in Turkmen newspapers,
praising Turkmenbashi and his policies.
Ashgabat Mathematics teacher Gozel Mamedova told IWPR that there was panic
amongst his colleagues as it was nearly impossible to prepare articles and get
them published in time for the new grading process, especially since there are
only two daily newspapers in the whole country.
A journalist in Ashgabat told IWPR how at the end of July and the beginning of
August, newspaper offices were besieged by teachers.
"They brought enormous articles. But we had to turn them into two paragraphs,
because they contained nothing but praise for Turkmenbashi.
"And they asked for written confirmation that the material would be published.
The teachers were ready to pay simply to be published."
The slew of articles written by teachers left many readers bewildered. "I don't
understand what is going on," said Ashgabat pensioner Roza Narzullaeva.
Not only have teachers been compelled to draft fawning articles about the
president, but as part of the new pay award scheme they also have to take an
examination that tests both their knowledge of the president's philosophical
works and the country as a whole. Sayara Zaitova, a junior school teacher in
Ashgabat, said she failed because she didn't know how much gas was produced in
With the new school year fast approaching, teachers have been anxious to be
assessed as quickly as possible - with unscrupulous education officials and
newspaper staff demanding bribes to speed up the process.
Raisa Odekova, a resident of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnvodsk), in the western
Balkan region, fell victim to corrupt staff at the local education authority.
"I have taught biology for a long time and according to all the criteria I
should qualify for the highest teaching grade," said Odekova.
"But at the city education board I was given a frosty reception, and they
listed all these documents I would need to be considered. It took a whole month
to gather them all together."
However, Odekova said she soon found out that it wasn't the documents they were
after, "They immediately told me that if I wanted the top teaching grade I
would have to hand over 200 US dollars. I got angry, expressed my indignation
There have also been reports of editors taking advantage of teachers
desperation to be published. Enegul Gubavea, from a village school close to
the capital, told IWPR, " I went along to a newspaper [to present my article],
but they said there was no space. Then I offered to pay and they agreed."
The new grading process appears designed to make it harder for teachers to get
pay rises. For instance, in Mary province in the south of the country, out of
one hundred people who applied for the top pay category only eight achieved the
The new procedure seems to have further demoralised the long-suffering teaching
profession. A junior school teacher from Turkmenabat summed up the mood amongst
colleagues, " We work long hours. After lessons there are always some events,
marches, when we have to stand in line along the road for various high-ranking
officials. In return, they not only make it hard for us to get certain grades,
we don't even get a full salary - almost all teacher are on half pay."
The names of those featured in this article have been changed out of concerns
for their security.
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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA No. 462