WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 508, 10 September, 2007

KYRGYZ SCHOOLS IN LANGUAGE ROW  Education ministry backtracks as Uzbek minority 
representatives voice angered at moves to cut schooling in their language.  By 
Abdumomun Mamaraimov in Jalalabad 

NEW PENALTIES FOR TAJIK TEACHERS SLAMMED  Educationalists say harsh sanctions 
for teachers who leave the profession early will not solve staff shortages in 
Tajik schools.  By Aslibegim Manzarshoeva and Lola Khalikjanova in Dushanbe 

SPECIAL REPORT

SMUGGLERS’ PARADISE ON KAZAK-UZBEK BORDER  Local officials are accused of 
taking kickbacks in return for turning a blind eye to wholesale smuggling.  By 
Daur Dosybiev in Shymkent, Saryagash and Almaty 

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KYRGYZ SCHOOLS IN LANGUAGE ROW

Education ministry backtracks as Uzbek minority representatives voice angered 
at moves to cut schooling in their language.

By Abdumomun Mamaraimov in Jalalabad 

Kyrgyzstan’s education ministry has reversed a decision to reduce the hours 
assigned to ethnic minority languages in the school curriculum, following an 
outcry from Uzbek community leaders. 

The decree, published without fanfare in the teachers’ newspaper Kutbilim in 
June, simply stated that lessons in Kyrgyz language lessons would be increased 
by two hours at the expense of Uzbek- and Tajik-language classes. 

The measure applied to schools where the main language of instruction is Uzbek 
or Tajik, not to mainstream schools where teaching is in Kyrgyz. Schools that 
use Russian were also unaffected.

Ethnic minority leaders, particularly among the Uzbek community in the south, 
the country’s second largest ethnic group which accounts for between 700,000 
and a million people or 15 to 20 per cent of the population, were incensed at 
what they saw as an diminution of their cultural rights. 

The order appeared to come from the top, but when member of parliament Davran 
Sabirov raised the issue with Education Minister Kanybek Osmonaliev on behalf 
of his fellow Uzbeks, there was considerable doubt about who had given the 
instructions.

“It isn’t clear how the decision was made. I personally spoke to the education 
minister, and he told me he knew nothing about it,” said Sabirov. “The order 
was signed by his deputy.”

One of Kyrgyzstan’s two deputy education ministers, Adina Boronov, also 
disclaimed responsibility for the new regulation. Speaking on August 27 – three 
days after Uzbek community representatives formally asked President Kurmanbek 
Bakiev to annul the order - he described the instruction as "absurd”. 

Boronov suggested this was a deliberate ploy by “those who would like to set 
these ethnic groups [Kyrgyz and Uzbek] against one another”. The consequences, 
he added, could be “appalling”. 

Even as the ministry was distancing itself from the measure, local education 
officials were trying to justify it. Chyrmash Dooronov, head of the education 
for Jalalabad region in southern Kyrgyzstan, pointed to recent amendments 
passed in parliament which require the state only to provide language teaching 
in Kyrgyz and two foreign languages, This is a change from the previous 
requirement to encourage people to learn Kyrgyz, Russian – widely spoken among 
all ethnic groups in the country – as well as other indigenous languages. 

As things stood, said Dooronov, increasing the number of hours assigned to 
Kyrgyz necessarily meant cutting other parts of the school curriculum. If there 
was a problem, it should be referred back to parliament. “This has to be 
clarified with the deputies,” he said. “We work on the basis of laws adopted by 
parliament.” 

Education officials in Jalalabad and Osh, another region with a substantial 
Uzbek population, said the order had actually been prompted by pleas from 
members of the community for better Kyrgyz-language provision. The education 
department in Suzak district said such a request had come directly from 
Sobirjon Mazaitov, chairman of an Uzbek association called Davr in the Osh 
region. 

Not true, says Mazaitov. He says Uzbeks are keen for their children to learn 
Kyrgyz, but that does not mean they are prepared to lose out on classes in 
their own language. 

“It is the state’s constitutional duty to provide equal conditions for all 
ethnic groups to learn the state and native languages,” he explained. “We have 
applied to all levels of authority, including the president of our country, for 
our children to be given the right conditions for learning the state language. 
But we didn’t ask for that to happen to the detriment of our own language”.

Sabirov agreed that learning Kyrgyz was a good thing, but that cutting Uzbek 
classes to make room for it would have a damaging effect on the community’s 
sense of identity. “Our children won’t learn anything – they learn different 
things through their own language,” he said. 

The Tajik community, which numbers around 40,000, have some schools where 
teaching is at least partly in their language, but as Bahromjon Marasulov, head 
of the Tajik cultural centre in Jalalabad, explained, "Our children mostly go 
to Russian or Uzbek[language] schools. We were trying to achieve at least some 
optional [Tajik] hours for our children there, but now we have this situation. 
It’s wrong.”

Such was the level of political concern about the change that when the Kyrgyz 
parliament came back from its summer recess on September 3, a group of deputies 
immediately asked to see education minister Osmonaliev.

According to member of parliament Muhammadjan Mamasaidov, who also heads the 
national Uzbek cultural centre, “We explained the situation surrounding the 
decree to the minister, and convinced him the measure was wrong. After this, he 
annulled it.”

A new order dated September 4 restores Uzbek- and Tajik-language hours, and 
introduces the extra two hours a week of Kyrgyz as a replacement for other 
subjects. 

Ethnic issues are always a sensitive political issue in Kyrgyzstan, especially 
in the south, given the size of the Uzbek population there and its proximity to 
Uzbekistan, with which diplomatic relations are often troubled.

Some damage has already been done to public confidence in central government’s 
commitment to diversity. Minority leaders who already felt that their schools 
had second-class status saw the move to downgrade secondary languages as a 
conspiracy.

Teachers from three schools in Jalalabad mounted a demonstration outside the 
mayor’s office in protest at the cut in language classes, and wider protests 
were planned, as well as an emergency meeting of Uzbek cultural organisations 
across the country.

However, the threat of further action was defused when the second decree 
reversing the changes was quickly dispatched to the south, and the following 
day, September 5, the local authorities in Osh and Jalalabad called in 
education officials and Uzbek teachers to give them the news.

Abdumomun Mamaraimov is an IWPR contributor in Kyrgyzstan


NEW PENALTIES FOR TAJIK TEACHERS SLAMMED

Educationalists say harsh sanctions for teachers who leave the profession early 
will not solve staff shortages in Tajik schools.

By Aslibegim Manzarshoeva and Lola Khalikjanova in Dushanbe 

Tough new penalties to try to keep newly-qualified teachers in the profession 
could make a catastrophic staff shortage in Tajikistan’s schools even worse, 
say students and teachers interviewed by IWPR.

More than half of all graduate teachers fail to report for work in the job 
assigned to them by the education ministry, mostly because of the low salaries 
and poor conditions on offer. This is leading to an acute shortage of staff, 
especially in schools in remote areas where freshly-qualified teachers are 
commonly sent.

To stop young teachers leaving the profession, the Tajik minister of education 
has decided to start prosecuting graduates who do not take up the job that the 
ministry allocates them. However, students and teachers say the penalty will 
not work and that the authorities should instead consider introducing 
incentives.

There is currently a shortage of around 6,000 teachers in Tajikistan. While 
8,000 student teachers enrolled on state-funded training courses, and more than 
4,000 graduated this year, many will opt not to go into teaching because it is 
poorly paid and offers few prospects. 

A high school teacher earns an average of 125 somoni, 36 US dollars, a month 
while primary school teachers can expect to earn a little more, around 135 
somoni. Unqualified teachers – high school graduates used as a stopgap - earn 
even less - 80 to 85 somoni a month. 
Students receiving a government grant sign a contract with the university that 
obliges them to remain in the profession for three years. The authorities often 
use the system to fill less desirable job vacancies in remote country schools, 
but many graduates turn down such jobs in spite of their contractual 
obligations.

A new clause will now be added to the contract which means those who leave 
within the first three years after graduation can be prosecuted in an attempt 
to recoup the money spent on training them.

The new measure, which was announced by Education Minister Abdujabbor Rahmonov 
on August 15, will affect graduates who finished their courses this summer and 
are due to start employment in September.

But Safarbek Nurov, the local government chief in Faizabad, a district some 70 
kilometres east of Dushanbe, said authoritarian measures may only discourage 
young people from entering the teaching profession altogether.

“We have no right to force them to work after graduation, even if they studied 
on a budget [government grant] basis,” he said.

Manzura Shorahimova, a fifth-grade teacher-training student, agrees that 
penalties will not stop people leaving, and argues that it will hard to enforce 
them fairly given the prevalence of corruption in Tajikistan.

“I think that such measures will be fruitless in our country,” she said. “The 
venality of our society means I can buy any document, and pay any school 
principal to get on their list of employees.

“They should take other measures to solve this problem [of staff shortages]. 
Those who are obliged to work in schools for three years will leave the job 
anyway if they don’t have proper conditions.”

Young people who come from towns to work in rural areas struggle to adapt to 
life there, as living conditions are basic and amenities such as gas and 
electricity are often lacking.

The reluctance of teachers to work in these areas has led to severe staff 
shortages. In the Khatlon region of southern Tajikistan, there is an estimated 
shortage of 3,146 teachers, including more than 300 Russian language teachers 
and more than 350 English teachers.

One consequence is that children are often taught by teachers who have only 
been educated to secondary-school level, or who are not specialists in the 
subjects they are teaching.

In addition to low salaries, there are other reasons why teachers drop out of 
the profession. 

Partly as a legacy of Soviet-era employment patterns and partly because of low 
pay in education, most teachers are women. But as Saida Azizova, deputy 
headmistress of a school in Dushanbe, explained, many women quit their teaching 
jobs once they get married. “The family’s opinion is very important here,” she 
said. 

Few men enter the profession because the pay scale would leave them unable to 
support their families. 

“What man would go for such salary? Of the 71 teachers at my school, only four 
are men,” said Kumri Nazarova, headmistress of a school in Khujand in northern 
Tajikistan. “If salaries were higher, there would be more men working in 
schools.” 

Sharif, a former chemistry teacher from the Yavan district, about 50 km south 
of the capital, was forced to trade his books for tools and is now working as a 
builder in Dushanbe. His wages has shot up to about 100 dollars a month, from 
the 20 dollars he was earning as a teacher. 

“I have three children and my wife doesn’t work, so my salary wasn’t enough to 
support my family. If someone falls ill, where would I find the money to treat 
them? I very much like the profession, but I just had to leave the school,” he 
said.

Many other male teachers who leave the profession go to work as labour migrants 
in Russia, where they can command higher wages even if they take menial jobs. 

Rustam Ahmedov, deputy head of the Tajik State University of Foreign Languages, 
said another reason why so many male graduates disappear is that at least half 
of those enrolling for teaching training only do so because it exempts them 
from being conscripted into the army.

“Parents don’t want their sons to bear arms and they try to get them placed 
anywhere else they can. It isn’t easy to get into other universities, so they 
enter our university by various ruses.” 

Ravshan Olimov, a student at Qorghan-Teppa University in southern Tajikistan, 
told IWPR that he enrolled at university in order to avoid the draft. 

He has no plans to take a teaching job when he leaves, even if he faces 
prosecution. “Why would I do that? The salary is inadequate,” he said.

Javarsho Immatshoev, a human resources expert at the education ministry, said 
the authorities have only resorted to the extreme measure of prosecuting 
defaulters on the contract because other methods have failed. 

He insisted considerable efforts have been made to retain teachers by improving 
their terms and conditions. In May 2006, the government approved a new package 
of benefits for young teachers, including land to build houses, livestock, 
interest-free bank loans.

According to Immatshoev, the measure is not as effective as it could be as some 
local government officials are not even aware of its existence, despite 
attempts to publicise it.

Analysts, teachers and students say that the teacher shortage cannot be 
resolved until there are radical changes to government policy and the education 
system.

Abdukarim Khaybulloev, the local government chief in Shaartuz district in the 
south-west of the country, said attempt should be made to improve facilities, 
including entertainment such as cinemas, in rural areas so that they begin to 
approximate to life in the towns. 

His colleague in Faizabad, Nurov, said teachers need better pay and more 
benefits if they are to stay in the job.

Political analyst Parviz Mullojanov likewise believes that careers in teaching 
will look more attractive if the government comes up with an improved package 
that might include tax breaks, free public utilities, family benefits, and land 
on which to grow food. 

“Let our officials give the best plots of land to the teachers instead of 
awarding them to themselves and their families,” he said. “That will encourage 
people to work as teachers. Methods that don’t involve economic [incentives] 
will be useless.”

Aslibegim Manzarshoeva is an IWPR contributors in Dushanbe. Lola Khalikjanova 
is Tajikistan editor with News Briefing Central Asia.


SPECIAL REPORT

SMUGGLERS’ PARADISE ON KAZAK-UZBEK BORDER

Local officials are accused of taking kickbacks in return for turning a blind 
eye to wholesale smuggling. 

By Daur Dosybiev in Shymkent, Saryagash and Almaty 

Smuggling is now so prevalent on Kazakstan’s southern border with Uzbekistan 
that almost everyone seems to be involved, from villagers carrying sacks on 
their back to well-organised crime gangs with fleets of vehicles, and border 
guards who accept bribes and look the other way.

Officials say they lack the resources to tackle the problem, which locals say 
has evolved from ad hoc activity by villagers into a more organised system 
involving criminal groups and corrupt frontier guards.

Cheap vegetables are smuggled northwards over the border to Kazakstan, as are 
ferrous metal scrap which is transported onwards to China where it is much in 
demand. Kazak flour, which is superior to that available in Uzbekistan, is 
smuggled in the opposite direction, along with consumer goods which are subject 
to heavy taxes and customs duties in Uzbekistan.

Illegal narcotics also flow between the neighbouring countries. Afghan heroin 
goes north, while Kazakstan-grown marijuana moves south. Central Asia’s 
southern republics – Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as well as Uzbekistan – are 
the first stops on the northward drugs route from Afghanistan to Russia and 
Europe.

A customs officer told IWPR that in addition, weapons were being smuggled and 
illegal immigrants were taken over the border.

BORDER REMAINS POROUS DESPITE DEMARCATION

At its western end, the 2,350 kilometre frontier between Kazakstan and 
Uzbekistan runs through thinly-populated deserts. To the east, though, the 
countryside is more rural and peppered with villages, and several of the main 
crossing points– Saryagash, Jibek Joly and Yntymak - are located here, between 
the sprawling conurbation of Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, and on the northern 
side the Kazak city of Shymkent. These areas are the focus for much of the 
commercial trade between the two countries, and for plenty of smuggling, too.

The border was of little significance when both republics were part of the 
Soviet Union, and after they became independent countries in 1991 it remained 
largely unmarked through the Nineties. 

Formal demarcation of the boundary began in 2001, the first task being to 
figure out exactly where lines that up until then had only been roughly drawn 
on maps lay on the ground. When the frontier was finally demarcated on the 
ground in early 2004, people within the frontier zone were urged to pack up and 
leave their homes, as it was planned to clear a buffer zone and to fence and 
secure the entire length of the border. 

However, the radar systems, closed-circuit television and searchlights that 
Kazak border guards officials talked about at the time have yet to be 
installed, as this IWPR contributor can testify from visiting the frontier 
zone. As a result, people can still evade border controls and cross fairly 
easily, carrying consignments of goods to sell on the other side. 

For instance, the border guards command for South Kazakstan region reports that 
its men have seized consignments of flour worth around 90,000 US dollars in the 
last three months alone. 

The number of people charged with these offences – 460 – suggest that they were 
minor players. Villagers on both sides of the border struggle to survive on the 
meagre income they make from farming, so the temptation to do a bit of 
smuggling can be irresistible, with potential earnings of 300 dollars a month 
and more. The numbers swell from autumn to spring, when there is little farming 
work to be done. 

Local people interviewed for this report were cautious and many did not want to 
be named, but all agreed that contraband was a flourishing business. 

The small-timers work on their own, carrying loads over the border in return 
for a fee. Most pay protection money to officials or police so that they can 
work with impunity. 

Increasingly, there are sophisticated networks where the actual smugglers are 
mere footsoldiers for bigger crime bosses with connections to officialdom. 

This IWPR contributor met many people who either knew of or were directly 
involved in the illicit trade, and who confirmed that law-enforcement and 
border officials were involved.

BORDER GUARDS SIT AROUND AS SMUGGLERS PASS

To see the trade in action, I hired a “tour guide” familiar with the border. 
After lengthy negotiations over the telephone, IWPR met up with 40-year-old 
Nurmat - a pseudonym – who runs a small business in the Kazak border town of 
Saryagash. He insists he personally never takes part in smuggling.

Outside one village where the border follows the line of a canal, Nurmat 
pointed out the site where a bridge used to stand, before customs officers and 
the local authorities dismantled it in an attempt to curb smuggling. The 
measure had proved rather pointless given that local residents had put up two 
makeshift bridges a couple of kilometres downstream.

Various methods are used to cross waterways where they mark the border. Some 
people use rickety wooden bridges suspended a few metres above an often 
torrential stream. If the smugglers are not local, they can hire villagers as 
guides. Horses can be rented to ford rivers, and at a pinch a local man will 
carry a smuggler over on piggyback to save him getting wet.

In one village, there was a border fence in place but local farmers had made a 
large hole through which an adult could easily pass. 

In the village of Yntymak, I watched as a whole line of people ran from the 
Kazak side into Uzbekistan carrying sacks of flour on their shoulders. On the 
other side of the border, large trucks were already standing at the ready to 
load up the cargo. 

Nearby, armed Uzbek border troops relaxed in the shade of some trees. A Kazak 
border guard stood on the bridge about 150 metres away, writing something in a 
notebook. No one attempted to apprehend the smugglers.

Although some properties have been cleared away and their inhabitants 
resettled, there are still villages where the traditional houses with large 
yards face onto one country and back onto the other, allowing the owners to 
levy fees on smugglers who simply walk through their home.

THROUGH THE BACK DOOR

In one small village, Nurmat parked his car in a street some 50 metres from a 
large gate, and we watched as a steady stream of women and teenagers came in 
and out carrying large bags.

“In this house, one gate opens onto Kazakstan and the other to Uzbekistan,” 
said Nurmat. “The owners take advantage of the fact. At night, trucks carrying 
flour drive up to the house, and in the evening, women cross the border 
carrying bags. No one pays any attention to them.”

Nurmat said that before demarcation, there were many such houses. “After that 
most of them were demolished. I know of about a dozen houses like this in 
Kaplanbek now, and another eight to ten in two or three other villages. But 
there must be many that I don’t know about,” he said.

He introduced me to 36-year-old Sharipa, whose house lies on the border, and we 
told her we wanted to take five tonnes of flour to Uzbekistan, where we already 
had a buyer for it. 

Sharipa said she would charge 150 dollars, including the cost of getting her 
brother to drive the flour in his truck to anywhere in Tashkent. 
When we asked about the risk of being intercepted, Sharipa assured us that we 
would not have any problems. “We are all one under God,” she said 
philosophically. 

“So you guarantee us reliable protection?” I asked.

“Without good protection, I would have gone to prison long ago,” she replied.

Nurmat explained later that Sharipa and others like her bribe officials between 
30 and 50 dollars for each truckload they deliver over the border. The higher 
the rank of the official, the larger the cut they take, he added.

FREELANCERS PLAY CAT-AND-MOUSE WITH POLICE 

Nurmat explained that this system, in which officials and police are complicit, 
is known as “red smuggling”. 

Another method, known as “black smuggling”, involves going it alone and 
attempting to avoid detection. Although it saves on protection money, it is a 
risky business as border guards are keen to stamp the practice out since they 
receive no cut from it, and also need to show their superiors they are doing 
something.

In the last few years, Uzbek border guards have killed one Kazak national and 
injured five, while one Uzbek has been killed and four others injured by Kazak 
guards.
In the border village of Gani Muratbaev, a 39-year-old man called Khalel 
laughed when he heard that we had only five tonnes of flour to shift. With no 
police to pay off, he could offered to do the job for less than Sharipa - 
12,500 tenge, about 100 dollars.

Khalel and his accomplices are successful by operating on a big scale, moving 
convoys of up to 20 trucks at a time. There are said to be about 20 gangs of 
this kind in the area, the biggest of which has 50 members because it takes a 
large team to move the freight through many hazards.

Ahead of the convoy, three or four spotters drive along in cars or on 
motorbikes, calling in by radio with news of where the border guards, customs 
officers and police are deployed on the road. If the lookouts see danger ahead, 
other gang members are waiting in cars and horse-drawn carts to create hold-ups 
and obstruct police cars.
At the point where the convoy has to cross the border, the gangs often create a 
diversion – perhaps a confrontation with border guards at another checkpoint, 
so that the troops are required to redeploy there. 

The crime gangs are said to have lawyers on their books who can defend them in 
court. 
COMPLICITY AMONG LOCAL AGENCIES

One customs officer who asked to remain anonymous told IWPR that his force 
lacked the resources needed to combat smuggling effectively.

“In order to monitor all the sections of the border where smuggling is 
possible, we would have to regroup our forces constantly,” said the officer. 
“We have Arlan [a rapid-response unit], but under present circumstances we 
don’t have sufficient personnel, equipment or weapons.” 

This officer suggested that Kazakstan’s Customs Committee, under its new head 
General Kozy-Korpesh Karbuzov, was leading the war on smuggling. 

Until his appointment in June, Karbuzov was deputy head of the National 
Security Committee, KNB, which controls the border guards as well as the 
intelligence services. In spite of that affiliation, he has ordered his customs 
officers – who come under the finance ministry - to move against the smuggling 
gangs, and told them they must not fear retribution from local KNB or frontier 
officials with links to the criminals. 

“Can you imagine the level of complicity that must exist if national leaders 
are concerned about it?” asked the customs man. 
Asked whether other agencies were involved in smuggling, the officer laughed.

“This year alone, we identified 12 members of the police and border guards who 
were helping the smugglers one way or another,” he said. “But there was no 
direct evidence of criminal acts, so they were simply dismissed.”

He said the scenes we had observed of smugglers walking through private homes 
to get from one country to the other could be stopped at a stroke if there was 
a will to do so.

“The owners of these houses lock their gates, and we don’t have the right to 
break into private property,” he said. “If you put a squad border guards 
outside each of these houses, ‘red smuggling’ will cease to exist.” “Why don’t 
you do that, then?” I asked. The officer shrugged his shoulders, saying, “The 
border guards are very reluctant to work with us,” he said. “They only do 
something if the command comes from the top. But afterwards, they take their 
checkpoints away again, saying they don’t have enough people.” 
ECONOMICS DRIVES ILLICIT TRADE

On the Kazak side of the border, many interviewees told IWPR they held the 
Uzbekistan authorities partly to blame for the smuggling problem. This view is 
based not on a chauvinist attitude towards their Uzbek neighbours, but instead 
accurately reflects the effects of the Tashkent government’s extremely 
restrictive import policies in recent years. 

In early 2003, Uzbekistan imposed swingeing customs duties on many types of 
imports, in a bid to prevent its trade deficit widening. Such regulations 
exemplify the growing economic imbalance between Kazakstan and Uzbekistan, the 
former with a growing economy and relatively liberal regulatory framework, and 
the latter enduring stagnation under a government that reacts to economic 
problems with authoritarian measures. 

For some residents on the border, the distortions caused by smuggling are 
harmful rather than a source of profit. 

Salim, a 45-year-old farmer who grows cabbages and other vegetables, said he 
cannot compete with the low price of produce coming in from Uzbekistan, where 
production costs and incomes are lower.

“Even with customs duties paid, Uzbekistan vegetables are cheaper. But when 
they are smuggled, I don’t stand a chance,” he said.

Nurmat and the other local residents interviewed agreed that smuggling would 
continue for the foreseeable future, helped along by local poverty and corrupt 
officials.

Daur Dosybiev is an IWPR contributor in Almaty

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