WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 475, 18 December, 2006
COTTON CRACKDOWN IN ANDIJAN New provincial governor applies tough measures to
salvage a disappointing cotton crop. By IWPR staff in London
DECISION DELAYED ON KAZAK OSCE BID Government remains confident of winning
campaign to lead European security group. By Abdujalil Abdurasulov in Almaty
TURKMEN-IRAN FREE TRADE ZONE WITHERS Hopes that business and cultural links
would be boosted have been dashed by lack of interest from both Turkmen and
Iranian governments. By Muhammad Tahir in Aq Qala, northern Iran
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COTTON CRACKDOWN IN ANDIJAN
New provincial governor applies tough measures to salvage a disappointing
By IWPR staff in London
The regional government of Andijan has cracked down on cotton smuggling after a
late and lacklustre harvest in the Fergana valley meant it failed to meet
strict production targets.
The campaign comes a year and a half after government forces killed hundreds of
people when they opened fire on demonstrators in Andijan. That unrest, which
Tashkent blamed on Islamic militants, was widely seen by people in this
impoverished rural region as a peaceful protest over economic conditions.
This year, a poor harvest in Andijan means the regional government is
prosecuting those suspected of hiding harvested cotton to sell it on or smuggle
it into neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, where in previous years businessmen have
filled up their homes and storehouses with cotton from Uzbekistan.
In a recent case, Marufjon Ergashev and Akmaljon Mirzakarimov from the village
of Beshtol in Namangan region, also in the Fergana valley, were sentenced to
four and five years imprisonment, respectively, after being convicted of
storing 440 kilograms of stolen cotton worth 160,000 som or 140 US dollars. The
buyers were given two years in a prison camp.
Although farms in Uzbekistan are in private hands, the state continues to
behave as if the Soviet Union still existed, deciding where cotton is to be
grown, setting production targets, buying up all the harvest at very low
prices, and preventing farmers from selling their own output privately or
taking it abroad. The government's cotton agencies then sell the product on
international markets and earn substantial foreign-currency revenues.
Large "shirkats" - successors to Soviet collective farms - are being
privatised, while small "dehkan" or "peasant" farms, generally a family working
a small plot of land, exist on the margins. But all are subject to the
strictures of the government's all-powerful agricultural monopoly in which
cotton is regarded as state property.
An estimated 600,000 tons of cotton was sold at the Second International Uzbek
Cotton Fair held in Tashkent in October, and official estimates suggest that
this year's total haul may exceed last year's record harvest of 3.7 million
tons, which could provide the treasury with as much as one billion dollars.
But there are indications that Andijan's contribution has been late and below
par. Bozorvoy Yoldoshev, a resident of the village of Yorkishloq, says Andijan
is always the first province to complete its harvest and sell its cotton quota
to the state. But this year, that has not happened.
In October, President Islam Karimov dismissed Andijan regional governor
Saidullo Begaliev. Analysts believe the president delayed Begaliev's removal so
as not to imply a direct connection with the Andijan violence. But when Karimov
subsequently spoke of the governor's failure to address social concerns in the
province, he appeared to be tacitly accepting that the May 2005 protest was not
motivated wholly by Islamic sentiment.
An Uzbek analyst living abroad who asked not to be named said Begaliev's
departure came after several months of rumours that he was about to be sacked.
"That's why he didn't make arrangements for the cotton harvest," he said.
The new governor, Ahmad Usmonov, is a former police chief in Namangan region.
But the police general arrived in the job too late in the autumn to make a
difference to the harvest.
In keeping with his background in security, Usmonov oversaw a crackdown on
individuals trying to secure some small personal gain from the crop.
Regional governors can be dismissed for not meeting their production targets,
especially for a crop as important as cotton, so the crackdown may be intended
to show Usmonov is making a serious effort to catch up on below-average harvest
figures, even if the amounts of contraband cotton recovered are not significant.
According to official figures, the bulk of cotton theft occurs in those areas
of the Fergana valley closest to Kyrgyzstan. Andijan's courts have been busy
with cotton cases. In September, 20 cases were heard in the Izbaskan criminal
court, 11 cases in Qorgontepa, and two in Bulokbashi, with heavy coverage in
the state-controlled media.
"In the past, almost nothing was reported about such cases, but during this
cotton harvest almost every issue of the provincial newspaper Andijonnoma has
carried reports from the prosecutor's office or the police, naming and shaming
people as thieves," said Bahrom Ubaidulloev, a 65-year-old pensioner from
In these reports, cotton is referred to as the "honour and conscience of the
Uzbeks". Such rhetoric may be intended to stoke patriotism and commitment to
the harvest, but it is in stark contrast to the widespread international
condemnation of the Uzbek cotton industry for its use of child labour and other
exploitative practices. Thousands of people are mobilised to pick the crop by
hand, including schoolchildren.
According to residents of one village, at the start of the cotton harvest the
authorities raised the purchase price to 70 som (about 50 US cents) per
"But even the tiny sum that is supposed to be paid for cotton is not always
received by the cotton pickers on time," said Khurnisa Kalonova, a resident of
a village in a border region. She says that labourers were paid promptly at
first, but then payments became delayed.
"In Kyrgyzstan they offer a much higher prices and pay immediately, which is
why several mini-cotton cleaning plants have been set up on the Kyrgyz side of
the border, to process cotton coming out of Uzbekistan," said Kalonova.
Uzbek frontier guards have set up extra border checkpoints and are carrying out
more frequent patrols to stop cross-border smuggling.
According to a police officer in Pakhtaobod, in Andijan province, the stolen
cotton is transported across the border on horseback. He said police have fired
shots in order to disperse horsemen waiting for cotton buyers.
"It is hard to keep control of everyone," said the officer. "They seem to be
decent, adult people, but then they brazenly steal from their own riches."
Ilhom Khudoiberganov, an inhabitant of Yorkishloq, says that some people are
hiding their cotton until winter. They believe that once the snows fall, the
border patrols will be end and smuggling can begin again.
"They say cotton is Uzbekistan's wealth. But where is this wealth? Where does
it go?" asked a woman from the village of Shukurmergen, in the Marhamat region
of Andijan province. "We work like slaves, not like normal people. I don't
think it's stealing. It is a struggle for life, a struggle for survival."
(Names of interviewees have been changed for security reasons.)
DECISION DELAYED ON KAZAK OSCE BID
Government remains confident of winning campaign to lead European security
By Abdujalil Abdurasulov in Almaty
Just one year ago, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe
criticised presidential elections in Kazakstan which saw the incumbent
Nursultan Nazarbaev win more than 90 per cent of the vote. Today, Nazarbaev is
leading the campaign to win his country the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009.
But the president will have to wait a little longer to find out whether his
country will get the political acceptance it wants from the international
community. An OSCE foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on December 5 was
expected to rule on the Kazak bid but decided to delay its decision until 2007.
The United States and Britain have criticised the country's OSCE aspirations,
citing human rights concerns. Germany, however, is promoting Kazakstan's bid as
part of a policy of engaging with this oil-rich Central Asian nation.
Kazakstan's deputy foreign minister Rakhat Aliev, who is Nazarbaev's
son-in-law, described the postponement as a "victory for Kazakh diplomacy",
arguing that by next year Kazakstan will be a much stronger position to gain
the support it needs to win the OSCE chair.
Some local analysts are also hopeful that Kazakstan will be successful.
Oleg Sidorov, an advisor with the Central Asian Foundation in Support of
Democracy, said Kazakstan is at last being recognised as an equal partner in
the OSCE grouping.
"Our status as a peripheral state supplying raw materials [oil] to Europe is
slowly being changed into a country with the power to influence major global
processes," he said.
Yerasyl Abdylkasymov, who was Nazarbaev's opponent in the 2005 presidential
poll, is also optimistic that OSCE foreign ministers will vote for Kazakstan
next time they review the matter, especially because Russia - an ally of the
Central Asian state - will back the bid.
He believes the country's abundant natural resources - along with support from
Russia - give it powerful leverage.
"Europe is highly dependant on hydrocarbons - oil and gas. Kazakstan possesses
enormous amounts of these resources," he said. "Therefore, with some pressure
applied by Russia, Europe's main oil and gas supplier, the West will be forced
to make concessions and allow Kazakstan to chair the OSCE."
Western countries such as Germany claim that thwarting Kazakstan's leadership
ambitions will simply alienate the country from the OSCE and drive it closer to
Others, however, disagree that the country will turn away from Europe if its
candidacy is rejected.
"Fears that it will rush towards the Islamic world or fully align itself with
Russia are without foundation," said Eduard Poletaev, a journalist from Almaty.
In the event that the bid fails, he believes "Kazakstan will seek out other
opportunities to achieve what it wants".
It may still have to. The OSCE's most powerful member, the US, together with
Britain, has yet to be convinced that Kazakstan would make a suitable chair.
Critics point to Kazakstan's spotty human rights record, its restrictive laws
and its failure to introduce democratic political system as proof that it is
not yet ready.
All this has led some diplomats to suggest that a 2011 bid would be more
appropriate and would give the country longer to address these human rights
But Ninel Fokina, who heads the Helsinki Group in Kazakhstan, is doubtful that
it will be ready even then.
"We do not meet the high requirements that a country chairing this organisation
is supposed to meet. We do not comply with its human rights standards. Even 10
years would not be enough to improve our performance to that level," she said.
However, some argue that human rights concerns have little to do with some OSCE
members' reluctance to see Kazakstan at the helm of the OSCE.
Murat Laumulin, an ex-diplomat and currently a research fellow at the Kazakh
Institute of Strategic Studies, blames geopolitics reminiscent of the Cold War
"There are human rights violations in the Baltic states as well, but Europe
closes its eyes to this," he said. "There is a big geopolitical game going on
in the region. The West fears that Russia's role would be enhanced if Kazakstan
chaired the OSCE."
Abdujalil Abdurasulov is an independent journalist in Almaty.
TURKMEN-IRAN FREE TRADE ZONE WITHERS
Hopes that business and cultural links would be boosted have been dashed by
lack of interest from both Turkmen and Iranian governments.
By Muhammad Tahir in Aq Qala, northern Iran
Amangeldi sits cross-legged in his shop, surrounded by heavy silver jewelry and
handmade carpets, sipping green tea pondering the future of his failing
He was one of the first merchants to set up shop when Iran launched a special
economic zone here in Inche Borun, a town in northeast Iran right on the border
with Turkmenistan. He was drawn by the prospect of easy access to traditional
handicrafts from Turkmenistan, and thought he would find a ready market in what
was promised as a flourishing duty-free zone visited by people on both sides of
It should have worked. The people in this part of Iran are mostly ethnic
Turkmen, who would welcome contact with their kin across the border, which was
hermetically sealed until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Inche Borun lies
on the main route into Turkmenistan from Gunbad-e-Kavus, the major town in this
part of Iran.
"We had very good contacts with our Turkmen brothers over the border. They used
to come to this bazaar to sell their handicrafts and buy staple goods," said
Amangeldi, 32. "It was beneficial to both communities - on one side [Iran] it
helped reduce unemployment, while for the people on the other side, it was the
nearest place to come and get basic goods, as the major towns in Turkmenistan
are a long way away."
The idea was driven by Iranian officials in a bid to boost border trade and
create employment. Initial success after the special zone was launched in 1997
led them to expand the number of shops to around 250, although local Iranian
officials say Turkmenistan never delivered on its promises to invest in the
Nearly ten years on, the plan has failed due to lack of support from both
governments, neither of which has proved keen on freedom of movement in a
sensitive border area. Turkmenistan has enforced strict border controls, most
directed at its own citizens, which have effectively strangled trade.
Iranian statistics show that fewer than 1,800 people crossed the border at
Inche Borun in the first eight months of 2006.
Seven out of ten businesses in the Inche Borun's duty-free market have closed,
so that just 40 of the 137 original shops in the bazaar are still functioning.
The market opens only on Fridays instead of daily, and the only customers are
Iranian nationals, plus the occasional long-distance truck driver heading north
Amangeldi thinks he will be joining the exodus of traders soon.
"I don't know what went wrong on the Turkmen side - they started implementing
such strict policies on crossing the border," he said.
Oraz Muhammad, who has just closed the shop he had in the bazaar, explained
that ethnic Turkmen from Iran are allowed to travel into Turkmenistan within a
45-kilometre radius of the Inche Borun crossing point. But he said this was not
enough, since they would need to travel further to be able to visit major
commercial centres. Nor do Turkmenistan's border officials allow the traders to
bring bulk consignments of goods out of the country.
Other merchants complained that their own government had failed to sustain the
duty-free zone, and water and electricity supplies remained erratic.
A more serious gripe voiced by many was that the Iranian government had failed
to pressure Turkmenistan to ease the border controls.
Many see political factors behind the failure of Tehran and Ashgabat to support
the scheme over the longer term.
Politically, Iran and Turkmenistan are a world apart - one a Shia theocracy,
the other a secular post-Soviet state dominated by the personality cult
surrounding idiosynchratic president Saparmurat Niazov. But both governments
have made great efforts to get on since Turkmenistan emerged as an independent
Their cooperation is pragmatic and focuses on economic links across their long
border. In addition, both countries have cool relationships with other
neighbours and the wider international community, so they have an interest in
remaining on good terms. Because of this, the election of hardliner Mahmoud
Ahmedinejad as Iran's president in place of the reformer Mohammad Khatami has
not substantially affected the relationship with Turkmenistan.
One local analyst in Gunbad-e-Kavus, who did not want to be named, attributed
the decline in official support for the Inche Borun market to a change in
personalities at the top in Iran the year the project was launched.
"This was an entirely political project rather than a social or economic one,
because the Iranian president at that time [Ayatollah Akbar] Hashemi Rafsanjani
was a close friend of President Niazov," he said. "So after Rafsanjani lost the
presidential election [to Khatami] in August 1997, the Iranian-Turkmenistan
relationship never regained its former warmth."
Other analysts, such as Aziz Ismailzade, an Iranian Turkmen who now lives
abroad, say both governments are paranoid about letting any of their citizens
"Their reluctance stems from the same reason - the fear factor. Neither
[government] wishes to allow its people unfiltered access to outsiders," he
Thus, restricting border traffic may have less to do with bilateral relations
than with the external pressures both governments are facing over human rights
and other concerns.
"Just as pressure on Niazov's regime has increased in recent years,
international pressure on Iran is also at a high level because of its nuclear
ambitions," said Ismailzade. "This has led both countries to impose
unprecedented restrictions on population movement."
Tehran keeps a close eye on its own ethnic Turkmen community, as it does with
other minorities on its periphery such as the Azeris and Kurds, for any sign of
separatist ambitions. Niazov's nation-building exercise is all about Turkmen
identity - but he has taken care not to irritate Tehran by stirring up
nationalist sentiment among the Iranian Turkmen.
Burhan Karadaghi, an Iranian historian based in Germany, believes both
governments may have concluded that keeping these border communities at a
distance from each other may be best for everyone.
"Neither Niazov nor Ahmedinejad is in favour of letting these [Turkmen] people
stay in touch. Niazov would feel insecure if the border was wide open, while
the Iranian regime would be unhappy if its own own ethnic minority was in
contact with kinsmen outside the country," he said.
Muhammad Tahir is a Prague-based journalist specialising in Afghan, Iranian and
Central Asian affairs.
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