project will have an impact on the wider economy, but there is little the 
government can do to speed it up.  By Elina Karakulova in Bishkek

NO EASY FIX FOR TAJIK MIGRANTS’ PROBLEMS  Analysts say more must be done to 
look after the rights of Tajiks who go off to work in Russia.  By Lola 
Khalikjanova and Aslibegim Manzarshoeva in Dushanbe

KYRGYZSTAN: HIJAB ROW AS NEW SCHOOL YEAR BEGINS  Headscarf dispute pits secular 
school system against demands to respect religious freedoms.  By an IWPR 
contributor in Osh


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Delays to the Kashagan project will have an impact on the wider economy, but 
there is little the government can do to speed it up.

By Elina Karakulova in Bishkek

A threat by the Kazak government to take control of a major foreign-run oil 
project has raised a few concerns about investment risk, but the move appears 
to have specifically addressed problems with the giant Kashagan oil field, 
which is seen as vital to the country’s future. 

Something like a truce has now been reached in the government’s dispute with 
the Agip KCO consortium which is developing the offshore Caspian field, but 
analysts says that even if the government was to seek a bigger role in the 
project, it would not get the oil out of the ground any quicker than the 
current arrangement.

The Kashagan field is the biggest yet found in Kazakstan. 

After tough statements from ministers warning that the Kashagan contract might 
be torn up, President Nursultan Nazarbaev took a less aggressive line when he 
spoke to reporters on October 8, after meeting Italy’s prime minister Romano 
Prodi who was on a mission to save the project, which is led by the Italian oil 
firm Eni.

”We are not talking about revising the contract,” said Nazarbaev. 

This suggested that the consortium would remain in place, and Eni would not be 
ousted as its leader. In August, Kazak environmental protection minister Nurlan 
Iskakov said that because Agip KCO had broken environment laws, “we have to 
withdraw its license, since further development of the deposit will cause 
irreparable environmental damage”. Earlier, Prime Minister Karim Masimov had 
also suggested that the consortium was in breach of contract.

But Nazarbaev went on to say Kazakstan reserved the right to change the terms 
of the contract if it decided that Agip KCO was still violating them. He was 
citing legislative amendments passed by parliament at the end of September 
which do in fact allow the government to unilaterally break or alter contracts 
relating to mineral extraction. 

Nazarbaev’s remarks appeared to mean that the threat of imminent action had 
receded to a warning that the government retained the legal tools to act if 

With oil reserves estimated by Agip KCO at 38 billion barrels (just over five 
billion tons), Kashagan is the centrepiece of the government’s long-term 
economic strategy of turning the country into a prosperous nation, a projection 
based in large part on plans to nearly double oil production to 150 million 
tons a year by 2015. 

However, the project has been decidedly slow in getting off the ground. After 
the start-up date had already been delayed from 2005 to 2008 for technical 
reasons, Agip KCO infuriated the government by announcing this July that 
extraction would take a further two years to get going, while the estimated 
development costs would shoot up from 57 to 136 billion US dollars. 

“Kazakstan wants to become one of the world’s top ten oil exporters, so it has 
an interest in accelerating the extraction process,” explained Dosym Satpaev, 
head of the Kazakstan-based Political Risk Assessment Group. “So of course it 
gets annoyed when the investors start saying that’s unlikely and keep drawing 
the process out.”

As well as accusing the consortium of breach of contract and violating 
environmental regulations, the government’s response included a demand for 40 
billion dollars in compensation and an increased stake for Kazakstan’s national 
oil and gas company KazMunaiGaz to make it the second largest shareholder after 
lead company Eni.

It is not clear whether this latter demand remains in place, or how a 
restructuring would affect other shareholders. At present, Eni, Exxon Mobil and 
Royal DutchShell have 18 per cent each, Conoco Phillips 9.3 per cent, and 
KazMunaiGaz and Japan’s INPEX 8.3 per cent each.

The delay to Kashagan’s start-up will inevitably affect the Kazak economy.

In the next couple of years, as President Nazarbaev pointed out on October 28, 
the government will be forced to pay its share of the higher development costs 
by trimming expenditure on social programmes and economic reforms. At the same 
time, past delays suggest that 2010 may not be a cast-iron date for the oil 
revenues to start flowing in.

Longer term, the government may have to trim its expectations. Commenting on 
news that the forecast of 150 million tons a year had been reduced to 130 
million tons, Prime Minister Masimov said on October 12 that "this is all 
Kashagan…. Of course we are making adjustments", according to Reuters.

At the same time, Masimov indicated that the size of the compensation Agip KCO 
would have to pay was still negotiable. 

Economic analyst Petr Svoik is in no doubt that the government had to act after 
Agip KCO revised its plans over the summer. 

In requesting a bigger share in the consortium, Svoik argues that the 
government is motivated by a sense of urgency – it wants to earn a higher share 
of the consortium’s revenue.

“The financial position is actually far from good, and the economic problems 
are getting worse,” he said. “The government understands that, and is counting 
on increasing its national share of the oil revenues.”

Some energy analysts make the point that if KazMunaiGaz did become a major 
player in the Agip KCO operation, it might give the government more of a role 
in decision-making but would not necessarily make the oil start flowing any 
faster or reduce the development costs.

“Kazakhstan isn’t going to take a key role in deciding when extraction starts 
or how much it is going to cost,” said energy expert Yaroslav Razumov. 
“KazMunaiGaz has neither the financial nor the technological capacity to become 
the key operator, although it could become more active and influential.” 

The Kashagan dispute, and particularly the legislative changes pushed through 
parliament, have caused some alarm in business circles, amid concerns that it 
might be the start of a wider campaign to take control of foreign-run projects. 
Razumov dismissed such speculation, saying that the government lacked the 
capacity to run the entire energy sector, nor would foreign investors stand for 

“No investor will allow the government to interfere in a private-sector 
project. There has never been a case when transnational corporations allowed 
local governments to control their share of the project. They either leave or 
they control the project,” he said.

Gulnur Rakhmatullina, an economist with the Institute for Strategic Studies, 
says the recent legislation is only part of a natural evolution where a 
stronger and more assertive Kazakstan is trying to protect its interests. 

“In the early Nineties, the doors were wide open to investors and we weren’t 
able to dictate our own terms as we should have done,” she said. “Now the 
country is financially stable and the nation’s assets have been developed 
properly, and we are setting ourselves the task of defending our own national 
interests when that’s necessary.” 

Amid signs that the government is prepared to resolve its dispute with Agip KCO 
without a major showdown, a deadline of October 22 has been set for reaching an 
amicable settlement.

Elina Karakulova is IWPR’s Central Asian regional editor based in Bishkek.


Analysts say more must be done to look after the rights of Tajiks who go off to 
work in Russia.

By Lola Khalikjanova and Aslibegim Manzarshoeva in Dushanbe

While a new framework agreement on labour migration agreed by former Soviet 
states is a positive step, experts say Tajikistan and Russia must do more to 
protect the rights of vulnerable expatriates working in Russia.

The declaration, which commits members of the Commonwealth of Independent 
States, CIS, to coordinate policy to protect migrant workers travelling between 
them, was issued by the presidents of the grouping’s 11 states when they met in 
the Tajik capital Dushanbe on October 5. 

The 11 full members of the CIS are Russia, four of the five Central Asian 
republics (Turkmenistan has only associate status), all three countries of the 
south Caucasus, and Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. 

Although analysts interviewed by IWPR welcomed the migration agreement, most 
said that in the case of workers from Tajikistan, neither Moscow nor Dushanbe 
was ready or willing to resolve all the problems once and for all.

Under the declaration, CIS members will coordinate their migration policies to 
guarantee their citizens the freedom to travel, live and work in other member 
states, and will take action to prevent discrimination against them. Kazak 
president Nursultan Nazarbaev noted afterwards that participating states had 
agreed to set up a database to monitor the supply and demand of migrant labour, 
according to the RIA Novosti news agency.

The issue of rights for labour migrants is, as Russian president Vladimir Putin 
pointed out, a “sensitive issue” for the former Soviet countries. Economic 
growth has made Russia and increasingly Kazakstan destinations for workers from 
the poorer Central Asian states. 

Tajikistan, in particular, experiences an annual seasonal exodus of men looking 
for manual jobs and higher earnings than they could ever earn at home, where 
unemployment rates are high and wages low. According to official statistics, 
average pay in Tajikistan is 30 to 35 US dollars a month, whereas in Russia a 
skilled worker can earn 300 dollars or more.

Official figures from the Tajik authorities say more than 400,000 Tajiks go off 
to work in Russia every year, while at least 100,000 more head for Kazakstan. 
Seasonal fluctuations in the data and the large number of illegal migrants lead 
some experts to suggest the number of Tajik migrants in Russia is closer to one 
million – a seventh of the entire population. 

Since April, Russia has imposed tougher immigration rules, setting a quota for 
workers coming into the country, banning them from working as market traders, 
and making employers more responsible for ensuring that those they hire have 
legal status.

Some analysts in Tajikistan welcomed the new CIS declaration as a step in the 
right direction.

“The decision adopted at the summit has formalised the common interest that all 
CIS countries have in the labour migration issue,” said political analyst 
Rashid Abdullo. “It represents a substantial step towards finding an 
appropriate solution to the problem at an official level,” 

However, Abdullo added that solutions were likely to take time

Political analyst Parviz Mullojanov said neither Russia nor Tajikistan was 
currently prepared to deal with the consequences of proper regulation, and 
despite the latest CIS declaration of intent, little of substance was likely to 
be agreed for some time to come.

“Russia is not currently ready to accord legal status to the full number of 
foreign immigrants, as it would then be required to grant all of them the full 
range of benefits, which would be a burden on its national budget,” he said. 
“So no real progress should be expected in the near future.” 

Nor is Tajikistan in a position to cope if the flow of workers is subject to 
stringent regulation, as this will almost certainly mean a fall in overall 
numbers as the “illegals” are weeded out. The country is unusually dependent on 
workers sending back money to support their families. World Bank figures 
suggest these remittances are equivalent to 35 per cent of Tajikistan’s gross 
domestic product. 

Political analyst Firuz Saidov insists that the vital economic contribution 
made by Tajikistan’s migrants should force their government to lobby on their 

“The challenge for the Tajik government is to show them they are not abandoned 
and it does cares about its citizens. It has to do this because it’s the 
migrants who provide economic stability for the country,” he said.

Muzaffar Zaripov, director of the Tajikistan office of the International 
Organisation for Migration, IOM, argues that Moscow, too, has plenty of reasons 
to take positive action. He cited the tighter regulations introduced earlier 
this year which brought many Tajik migrants into the legal economy in Russia 
and cut the influx of illegals.

Zaripov would now like to see Russia introducing even tougher legislation 
governing domestic employers, although he does not recommend simply fining them 
because that may simply prompt them to shed their illegal staff in order to 
evade punishment. Then it is the worker, not the company, that suffers. “He is 
deported, loses his job, and gets none of the wages he was due,” explained the 
IOM official.

Another important issue that Zaripov would like to see Moscow tackling more 
robustly is the rising wave of xenophobia, which leaves people from Central 
Asia and the Caucasus vulnerable to discrimination and racist attacks. He would 
like to see the authorities taking action against media outlets that encourage 
xenophobic attitudes among Russians.

“Every time people talk about labour migration, they mention Tajiks first and 
foremost. That is very bad…. The level of xenophobia increases because [false] 
information is circulated in the Russian media,” he said. 

One group who have definitely lost out from the changes that Moscow has already 
made are people who have been deported for breaching immigration rules. Once 
deported, they cannot re-enter Russia for five years. As IWPR reported in June 
(Tajik Migrants Fleeced by Shady Travel Firms, RCA No. 498, 22-June-07), some 
of those who end up being deported have been duped by intermediaries who 
promised to get them legal status.

Earlier this year, Dushanbe asked Moscow to “amnesty” as many as 50,000 people 
who had been deported, but Russia’s migration agency said each case would need 
to be reviewed individually, meaning the process was likely to take a long time.

Mullojanov doubts Moscow will offer such an amnesty. 

“It would be quite possible from a technical point of view, because the total 
number of deported Tajik nationals is not large. However, such a move would 
create a precedent that the Russians are unlikely to accept at present,” he 

Zaripov agrees that Russia could review these cases, but warns that “this would 
be a very laborious task – they would have to decide on each case individually, 
and there are some cases where the deportation itself was conducted in an 
illegal manner”.

Abdullo suggests another reason why no action is likely to be taken in the 
short term – Russia is now focusing on its December parliamentary election and 
a presidential ballot next March, and the campaign period is not a good time to 
be raising a thorny issue like immigration.

“The authorities there are campaigning for votes, and a significant proportion 
of the Russian electorate is against immigrants of any kind,” he said.

Lola Khalikjanova and Aslibegim Manzarshoeva are IWPR contributors in Dushanbe.


Headscarf dispute pits secular school system against demands to respect 
religious freedoms.

By an IWPR contributor in Osh

As the new school year gets under way, several Muslim girls in southern 
Kyrgyzstan have been excluded for wearing headscarves, and more are considering 
dropping out if the ban continues to be enforced. 

The extent to which the headscarf ban is official remains unclear, but schools 
are citing new guidelines instructing them to interpret and enforce the school 
dress code more strictly. 

In the past, schools have tolerated girls wearing Muslim-style headscarves, but 
now many are insisting that the costume does not count as part of the 
prescribed uniform and anyone who flouts the rules will be excluded. 

The parents of devout Muslim schoolgirls have protested at the new rules, 
saying they should be allowed to adopt “hijab” or Islamic dress under the 
constitutional right to religious freedom.

The dispute is partly about the relationship between religion and the secular 
state, but is complicated by politics – many of those insisting on the right to 
wear hijab are associated with Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an outlawed group which the 
authorities regard as extremist and a potential threat. 

In researching this report, IWPR met seven girls in Osh region who had been 
excluded from classes after refusing to remove their scarves.

Thirteen-year-old Mavluda Bahridinova, a pupil at the Razzakov School in Osh, 
was barred from school at the beginning of the autumn term on September 1 after 
she refused a request to remove her headscarf.

Her father Jamoldin Bahridinov said that when he came to discuss his daughter’s 
case, the school head told him that his daughter was attending a 
Russian-language school, and that if she wanted to keep her head covered she 
should switch to a madrassah or Islamic school.

“All my objections that the child’s rights and the law on freedom of conscience 
and religion were being violated went ignored,” said Bahridinov.

He said he reported the incident to the local security department where staff 
told him that the school’s decision had nothing to do with infringing religious 
rights, but with regulations at individual schools.

He said what made him particularly angry is that instead of discussing the 
situation with parents, the headmistress simply did not let his daughter into 
the school.

“She should have invited parents to the school [to discuss the matter] rather 
than expelling a seventh grader from classes,” he said 

Parents in the Karasuu district of Osh region have written to the local 
authorities to complain about the new rules, and there are rumblings of 
discontent in Nookat and other districts.

Although it is clear there has been a general impetus to impose school uniform 
rules and – without making it explicit – ban Islamic forms of dress since the 
new academic year began, the rules are being imposed patchily, with some 
schools in Osh citing higher authority, others their existing internal 
regulations, and others still not enforcing a ban at all. 

In the main, school officials maintain that wearing anything other than the 
official uniform is breaking the rules.

“We have a dress code on school uniform. They [girls] must follow the rules. 
The hijab is not part of the school uniform,” said Ermamat Kholmirzaev, 
headmaster at the Mendeleyev secondary school in Nookat.

But he denied that staff were forcing students to take off their scarves, or 
that imposing strict uniform requirements amounted to an attempt to curb 
religious freedom. 

“Religion is permitted in our country, but it must not interfere in state 
[matters]. We aren’t persecuting anyone…. We are demanding that they follow 
what is written in the school code,” he said.

Ilmira Shakirova, deputy director at the Beruni school in Nookat district told 
IWPR that she was acting on an order to enforce the rules on proper dress. 

“We’ve received instructions from the district education department,” she said. 
“If someone comes to school, they must adhere to the school uniform.” 

Shakirova argued that headscarves were “not aesthetic” and could pose hygiene 
problems, or even obstruct pupils’ hearing.

Ikram Rahmonov, who works for the education department in Nookat district, said 
the schools were merely fulfilling their own internal rules to the letter.

Marat Usenaliev, head of the schools department at the Kyrgyz education 
ministry, denied there was any official ban on headscarves.

“There has been no such ban. The only thing is that a verbal instruction was 
issued saying that the school uniform should consist of a white top and black 
lower half,” he said. 

When IWPR asked Usenaliev to comment on parents’ allegations that girls were 
being forced to remove their scarves, he said these pupils were free to attend 
switch from mainstream state schools to madrassahs if they were unhappy.

"This is a secular state and the schools are a general educational institution. 
After school, they can go around in hijab or without it,” he said. 

Recent campaigns in southern Kyrgyzstan, where the Islamic tradition has always 
been stronger than in the north, suggest there is a growing trend for women to 
wear the headscarf. In August this year, Mutakalim, a Muslim women’s rights 
group based in the south, won its battle for women to be allowed to have 
passport photographs taken wearing scarves. 

Abdumannop Khalilov, head of the Foundation for the Development of Democracy 
and Rights in Osh, said that since the new school year began, several parents 
had approached his non-government group for help on the issue.

Khalilov said that two years ago, his organisation approached the authorities 
on the behalf of a girl in the seventh grade at the Razzakov school, who went 
on to successfully challenge a decision to forbid her from entering the school 
wearing a headscarf. He said the girl won the case because the local 
authorities were unable to challenge the argument that since wearing a 
headscarf in a public place does not go against the constitution, it should 
therefore be allowed in schools.

Several parents told IWPR that the Osh regional branch of the prosecution 
service had become involved in the row, and had called them in to lay down the 

“They talked to us and said they [schoolgirls] should take their headscarves 
off,” said a mother from Nookat. “They said it isn’t allowed… The prosecutor 
said he would send his staff members to check that the ban is being followed.” 

Some of the parents interviewed by IWPR admitted they belonged to 
Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an Islamic group banned in Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian 

Hizb-ut-Tahrir – the “Party of Liberation” – is a group of Middle Eastern that 
emerged in Central Asia in the Nineties and advocates the creation of an 
Islamic state. The party’s several thousand followers in the south of 
Kyrgyzstan are the most visible and vocal in the region. The Kyrgyz authorities 
have not pursued a policy of mass arrests as seen in Uzbekistan and to an 
extend Tajikistan, but keep a close eye on Hizb-ut-Tahrir and other radical 
Islamic groups which it regards as a security threat.

One parent, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he believed the Kyrgyz 
authorities were following the lead of Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan's 
authoritarian leader, who has taken tough steps to crush the group.

“Gradually, [Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek] Bakiev has started the same policy as 
Islam Karimov. He has started provocative actions against us members of Hizb-ut 

This man argued that wearing a headscarf was a religious, not a political act.

“In Islam, a woman must cover her body and head from strangers. They are not 
propagating a particular idea; they are just simply following the canons of 
Islam,” he said.

Increasing numbers of girls are either dropping out of school over the issue, 
or considering doing so.

Akbarali Ergashev, from Nookat district, said that pressure on his 13-year-old 
daughter Mahmudakhon to uncover her head led to her giving up school 

“Of course we realise she isn’t getting an education. But it was her decision 
[not to go]. If it wasn’t for this ban on wearing headscarves, she wouldn’t 
have dropped out,” he said.

Nookat resident Bahodir Abdrahmanov told a story similar to that of other 
interviewees, saying his daughter Barnokhon, now 14, decided to keep her head 
covered at an early age. 

“She started to wear a headscarf and follow Islamic rules when she was six,” he 
said. “She still wears a headscarf but teachers keep telling her to take it off 
and have even threatened her with expulsion. 

“I’ve warned them that if they break the law [by insisting on the ban], I will 
take my daughter out of school and send her to a religious school instead.”

Mahabat Aytieva remains defiant after her teenage daughter has been excluded 
for wearing a headscarf.

“We will do what Islam prescribes that we do. We do not agree that our 
daughters should not wear headscarves… In Islam, this counts as a test. With 
patience, we shall prevail.”

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