WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 531, February 14, 2008
POWER STRUGGLE HAMPERS KYRGYZ TV REFORM Hunger strikes and threats of wider
industrial action are distracting attention from attempts to create a genuine
public-service TV station. By Yrys Kadykeev in Bishkek
TIGHTER REGULATION WORRIES KYRGYZ FAITH GROUPS Smaller confessions claim plans
to tighten registration rules for religious groups threatens basic freedoms.
By Tolkun Namatbaeva in Bishkek
ALMATY CRACKS DOWN ON GUNS IN SCHOOLS As a spate of armed incidents in
classrooms prompts new security measures in Kazakstans commercial capital,
parents and teachers say it may not be enough. By Marik Koshbaev in Almaty
KAZAKSTAN: LAVISH WEDDINGS RUIN UZBEK FAMILIES As a extravagant ceremonies
impoverish the community, campaigners are urging changes in the law. By Zinaida
Savina in Shymkent
**** IWPR RESOURCES
2008 KURT SCHORK AWARDS IN INTERNATIONAL JOURNALISM Call for entries now open.
For more details visit http://iwpr.net/kurtschork.html
NEW PROJECT: IWPR now operates a major new media project in Asia. Visit IWPR's
new Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project website at
CROSS CAUCASUS JOURNALISM NETWORK. IWPR has launched the website of a unique
Caucasus-wide programme at www.crosscaucasus.net
SAHAR JOURNALISTS ASSISTANCE FUND: IWPR is establishing a fund, in honour of
Sahar al-Haideri, to support journalist participants in its training and
reporting programmes around the world. The Sahar Journalists Assistance Fund
will be used to support local journalists in cases of exile or disability, or
to assist their families in case of death in service. To find out more or
donate please go to: http://www.iwpr.net/sahar.html
REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA RSS: http://www.iwpr.net/en/rca/rss.xml
TURKMEN RADIO: INSIDE VIEW is an IWPR radio training and broadcast project for
Turkmenistan. View at: http://www.iwpr.net/?p=trk&s=p&o=-&apc_state=henh
RECEIVE FROM IWPR: Readers are urged to subscribe to IWPR's full range of free
electronic publications at:
GIVE TO IWPR: IWPR is wholly dependent upon grants and donations. For more
information about how you can support IWPR go to:
POWER STRUGGLE HAMPERS KYRGYZ TV REFORM
Hunger strikes and threats of wider industrial action are distracting attention
from attempts to create a genuine public-service TV station.
By Yrys Kadykeev in Bishkek
Bitter conflicts between staff and management at Kyrgyzstans state
broadcasting company are obstructing the already slow progress towards
converting the station into a truly public TV and radio company.
The latest conflict erupted on January 31, when several staff members of the
National TV and Radio Company, NTRC, declared a hunger strike.
They were demanding the resignation of director-general Melis Eshimkanov, who
had been appointed by President Kurmanbek Bakiev only three months earlier.
At the start of the protest, about ten staffers from the channel joined the
chief organiser of the strike, Beyshenbek Bekeshov, a former deputy to the
After protesters were barred from entering the TV building in Bishkek, the
hunger strikers, now numbering 13, continued their action in Bekeshovs house.
Bekeshov said they were protesting against the arbitrary and lawless
leadership style of their new boss.
He commits lawless acts and violates our civil, creative and labour rights,
Bekeshov told IWPR. There has never been such lawlessness in the whole history
of the Kyrgyz TV and radio station.
Bekeshev, whose programme Kolomto (Hearth) was axed after the new chief was
appointed, said Eshimkanov wanted to get rid of the stations most experienced
workers and put his own cronies into place.
He wants to turn the national TV channel into Eshimkanov television, Bekeshev
maintained. You could call it the privatisation of state property, Eshimkanov
In an open letter to President Bakiev, the hunger strikers lambasted
Eshimkanovs personnel reforms as adventurist and harmful.
Amid signs that the protest may be spreading, it was reported that staffers at
regional TV and radio in the Batken and Jalalabad regions also joined the
protest this week.
Eshimkanov rejects the strikers accusations, saying what they really oppose is
his drive to slash bloated payrolls and scrap substandard shows.
At 1,400 employees, the staff is incredibly inflated, he maintained. At the
same time there is a lot of poor production and too many outdated,
The director-general noted that the companys recently-created Artistic Council
had already criticised 150 shows as flawed, which is why NTRC had spent a
month updating its programme schedules and outlining new strategies.
Any attempt to improve the channel causes protests, concluded Eshimkanov.
He hinted that Bekeshov and the other strikers had their own agenda, saying,
There are certain forces that dont want reforms.
Eshimkanov says he remains committed to root-and-branch reform of the
broadcaster. A complete structural reorganisation will entail cuts. I plan to
introduce new management based on the experience of the Baltics, Georgia and
Ukraine, and to develop our work according to international standards, he
Some NTRC staff agree with their chiefs diagnosis. Jyldyz Muslimova, who
monitors the broadcasters social affairs and political output, said she backed
This is all about the personal ambitions and power struggles of Bekeshev and
the other hunger strikers, she complained.
They dont like the new leaderships reforms, or the fact that airtime is now
taken up with higher quality programmes than the old ones they produced.
The need for root-and-branch reform of the NTRC has been bubbling away in
Kyrgyzstan for several years.
It emerged as a priority after the abrupt change in the countrys leadership in
March 2005. One of the complaints voiced by protesters at the time was that the
national TV stations coverage of elections earlier that year had been biased.
Demands for immediate reform of the channel were high on the agenda during
demonstrations against the new Bakiev administration that recurred through 2006
In June 2006, parliament passed a law setting out basic principles for
transforming NTRC into a public service corporation.
The law provided for the creation of a supervisory board whose 15 members would
be confirmed by parliament after being nominated in equal measure by the
president, the deputies and civil society groups.
However, the board did not meet until November 2007, and was soon suspended.
(See Kyrgyz TV Reform Falters Ahead of Polls , RCA No. 518, 03-Dec-07.)
As a result, President Bakiev stepped in and unilaterally appointed Eshimkanov
- albeit on an acting basis - without going through the board.
Shamaral Maychiev, who is Kyrgyzstans Media Representative, a non-government
position that functions as an ombudsman for the sector, believes the current
conflict at NTRC stems from the fact that the supervisory board is playing no
role despite having supreme responsibility for the company under the law.
Elvira Sarieva, a board member nominated by non-government groups, said she
believed the body was deliberately stopped from working before last Decembers
During the election campaign, many opposition parties accused the state
broadcasting company of bias. They said NTRC, the only station covering the
countrys entire territory, displayed a marked preference for pro-presidential
forces and candidates in its election coverage.
Ilim Karypbekov, director of the Media Representative Institute, a
non-government watchdog organisation which supports Maychievs work, says the
current stalemate will do nothing to advance the stalled reform process.
This scandal will not improve the channel, he said. Its just about
personalities and a fight for power. At issue is not reform, only personal
Almaz Ismanov of the Centre for Extreme Journalism agreed that the dispute was
about personalities as much as policy, but added that it had in the process
laid bare fundamental problems affecting the station.
He listed some of these problems, saying, NTRK definitely has to be reformed
in all areas, especially on the technical side. One of the problems is that the
signal doesnt reach everywhere NTRK has a multi-million budget, it supports
a massive staff yet it cant broadcast to all corners of the country.
However the current dispute is resolved, few analysts disagree that the state
broadcasters performance could be improved.
Marat Tokoev, who chairs the Journalists Association, says it is going to be
extremely difficult to turn around this complex organism with its large staff
roll and decades of doing things in a certain way. Coming from the private
media sector, Eshimkanovs mistake, he said, was to underestimate all this
Eshimkanov, formerly an opposition deputy in parliament, used to own the
popular Aghym newspaper.
Like the TV boss himself, Tokoev prescribes staffing cuts as part of the cure,
but he recommends that the process be carried out transparently, testing
peoples ability to do the job, and ensuring that they get help to find other
employment if they are made redundant. Most important of all, he said, the cuts
should start with top managers, to get rid of all those whove held management
posts for years but have done nothing useful for the channel.
Yet before any of that can happen, Tokoev says the question of the supervisory
board needs to be sorted out, as Eshimkanovs hands will be tied as long as he
only holds his post in an acting capacity. The supervisory council needs to be
given a chance to work at full capacity, so that it can legally elected a
director-general who will be invested with broad powers and who will be in a
position to push through reforms to the TV channel, said Tokoev.
Yrys Kadykeev is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.
TIGHTER REGULATION WORRIES KYRGYZ FAITH GROUPS
Smaller confessions claim plans to tighten registration rules for religious
groups threatens basic freedoms.
By Tolkun Namatbaeva in Bishkek
New, more restrictive regulations governing the practice of religion will
undermine peoples constitutional rights and antagonise faith groups, according
to Kyrgyz lawyers and representatives of various confessions.
The State Agency for Religious Affairs says the current legislation on freedom
of religion and on religious organisations is out of date and needs to be
A new bill has been drafted which, if it goes through, will require religious
organisations a classification which includes individual houses of worship -
to have at least 200 members in order to obtain the registration they need to
operate legally. At the moment, they only need ten members to register with
Religious colleges will also need to register and have their teaching
programmes checked by the State Agency for Religious Affairs. Finally, the
government plans to ban the distribution of religious books and material
outside places of worship and special shops, and to require anyone wanting to
hold a religious event to gain prior permission.
Kanat Murzakhalilov, deputy head of the State Agency for Religious Affairs,
says the overwhelming majority" of religious organisations support the new
Murzakhalilov said changes to the law were needed because of conflicts created
by proselytising faith groups coming in from outside Kyrgyzstan, which rode
roughshod over local sensibilities. The agency is concerned at the number of
such groups active in Kyrgyzstan, he added.
Without explicitly saying so, Murzakhalilov was referring to Christian groups,
often evangelical Protestants, which recruit new members among ethnic Kyrgyz, a
community where Islam is the traditional religion and attempts to convert
people to other faiths are commonly regarded as offensive.
Islam and the other main faith, Russian Orthodox Christianity, have a history
of coexistence in Kyrgyzstan, as each has its own ethnic constituency and does
not seek converts from the other.
Kyrgyzstan also has a range of minority faiths including Catholics, Protestants
and Jews. There are currently some 300 Christian groups including Lutherans,
Baptists, Jehovahs Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists.
While official parlance draws a distinction between traditional religions -
mainstream Islam and the Orthodox Church and non-traditional faiths seen as
imports, post-Soviet Kyrgyz governments have been more tolerant of incoming
groups than some neighbouring states.
Murzakhalilov insisted the tighter rules would not undermine peoples
constitutional right to freedom of religion.
But faith group representatives, evangelical Christians in particular, are
Valentin Shaipov of the Evangelical Christian Union said his confession, which
has been active in Kyrgyzstan for more than a century, could suffer badly if
the new legislation is adopted because small congregations will not be able to
Many of our groups have only about a hundred people left out of the [former]
300 because so many people have emigrated from Kyrgyzstan, he explained.
These old men and women who have been coming to our churches for years could
find themselves outside the law.
Other Christian groups say they are in the same boat, as finding 200 people to
support the registration application for a new place of worship could be an
insurmountable obstacle, especially in rural areas.
In a joint message, several church groups said the planned legislation could
shut down many houses of worship as well as bar new ones from opening.
Religious affairs expert Natalia Shadrova understands their concern.
The 200-person threshold could be really destabilising, she said. If state
officials don't think about it in a profounder way
relations between state,
society and religious organisations could become deadlocked.
Shadrova predicted that adopting the controversial changes would trigger a wave
of emigration by members of smaller faith groups.
Elena Voronina, head of the rights group Interbilim, agreed.
Why create additional legislation? she asked. Any attempt to direct
citizenss views along the lines that this religion is trustworthy but that
one isnt is dangerous. The state mustn't divide confessions into traditional
and non-traditional, harmful and useful. State policy must unite rather than
Member of parliament Rashid Tagaev disagrees with critics of the bill, saying
Kyrgyz legislation to date has been lax to the point where it endangers
He argues that the law will be a useful instrument for preventing the rise of
Muslim extremist groups.
Allowing ten people to get together and start a religious organisation is very
wrong, he said.
Without tighter control we will have a growing number of Hizb-ut-Tahrir,
Wahhabi and Akromia members, said Tagaev, referring to various strands of
radical Islam identified as dangerous by the authorities. Why should we allow
them to flourish?
Tolkun Namatbaeva is an IWPR contributor in Kyrgyzstan.
ALMATY CRACKS DOWN ON GUNS IN SCHOOLS
As a spate of armed incidents in classrooms prompts new security measures in
Kazakstans commercial capital, parents and teachers say it may not be enough.
By Marik Koshbaev in Almaty
It is not just schools in the United States that are alarmed by rising gun
crime. After a spate of incidents involving firearms, schools in Kazakstans
biggest city, Almaty, have announced a package of measures to prevent guns
being brought onto the premises.
In future, pupils will not be allowed out without supervision during school
hours by parents, and unauthorised outsiders will be banned from entering the
The measures will be monitored by a special commission set up to check on
security in Almatys schools. There are also plans to install security cameras
and hire professional guards to patrol school buildings. The city council has
earmarked two million US dollars for the project.
Authorities in Almaty took these dramatic steps following a fatal incident at a
secondary school in late January, in which a pupil detonated a hand-grenade.
Two people died and two others received serious injuries.
Following other incidents involving weapons in schools, the citys deputy
mayor, Serik Seidumanov, set up the special commission.
From now on, we need police to be present in the schools, said Seidumanov.
Aygul Shokshebaeva, deputy head of public security in the city police
department, blamed the rising incidence of accidents involving weapons on
negligent management in the schools, which provide basic military training for
Weve found numerous mines, grenades and other munitions, both with and
without [identifying] marks, in outhouse buildings, she said.
Other education officials say the real problem is that illegal weapons are
increasingly available in wider society, and are finding their way into the
schools. This is true not only of Almaty and the capital Astana, but also of
provincial towns, they say.
The security problem in the schools is more urgent than ever before, said a
senior teacher at a school in Shymkent, the administrative centre of South
Kazakstan region. Boys used to sort out their disputes with their fists, but
now they use weapons, especially firearms.
It is high time the authorities and the police paid more attention to this and
didnt leave everything up to the poor teachers.
Several pupils confirmed to IWPR that it is not difficult to get hold of guns
There are guys who carry weapons. They know where they can get them, said
Oleg, who is in his penultimate year of school. There are two of them in my
In order to acquire weapons, he said, all you need is the money to buy them.
If I saved up, I would buy some myself, because anything can happen; I might
Daulet and Asylbek, friends in the final year at an Almaty high school, agreed
that weapons were becoming indispensable for young people like them.
Its dangerous to walk the streets, especially in the evening, said Daulet.
A lot of our schoolmates have been robbed of cell phones, money or clothes,
many times. If theyd had guns, they could have scared the muggers off.
At national government level, officials are pondering strategies to reduce
youth crime as part of a wider programme to protect childrens interests.
The Almaty police department says that contrary to popular perceptions,
juvenile delinquency is not on the rise in the city.
Many parents are doubtful that this is the case.
Gaukhar Mukhamedjanova, whose son Askar is in fifth grade, said she had
recently been hearing of numerous cases where schoolchildren had used guns
I worry about my child a good deal, she said. What is going on in the
schools is terrifying. My son is constantly telling me stories about the bigger
boys carrying guns.
Following the latest grenade explosion, she said, We fear for our children.
Anna Nechaeva, a juvenile psychologist from the association Childhood Without
Borders, told IWPR that her experience showed that todays teenagers were
becoming increasingly aggressive. She noted that some schools, but not all, had
in-house child psychologists.
In my opinion, teenagers today are often emotionally drained because of the
huge amount of aggression and violence they are exposed to in the media, she
Marik Koshbaev is an IWPR contributor in Almaty.
KAZAKSTAN: LAVISH WEDDINGS RUIN UZBEK FAMILIES
As a extravagant ceremonies impoverish the community, campaigners are urging
changes in the law.
By Zinaida Savina in Shymkent
When Sultan and Aydin, a young couple in Turkestan, a city in southern
Kazakstan, decided to get married, the grooms family took out a bank loan to
cover the costs.
Sultan was planning to get a job in South Korea so that he could repay his
parents. But he had to postpone the trip, and the family got into financial
difficulties over the loan, which they had taken out at a high interest rate.
He married Aydin, but when they found it hard to make ends meet, she complained
to her parents. The young couple got divorced soon afterwards.
During the divorce proceedings, Aydins family accused Sultan of lying about
his intention to go to Korea, saying if they had known the true picture, they
would never have agreed to such a lavish wedding.
Such tangled stories are all too common in Turkestan, where the cult of lavish
weddings has turned into a major economic headache for the local Uzbek
community, who account for 90,000 of the citys 150,000 residents.
In recent years, weddings have become really competitive; its a big problem,
said Mubarak Kasimov, deputy mayor of the nearby village of Stary Ikan.
Kasimov says most Uzbek families in the Southern Kazakstan administrative
regions live off the soil and dont earn much more than 1,000 US dollars a year.
Families spend their entire annual budget on weddings and run up debts that
take years to repay, he adds.
Weddings in and around Turkestan can cost astronomical sums when measured
against average local earnings. The bill can vary from one to five million
tenge, or between 8,000 and 40,000 dollars - and in some cases twice the latter
Besides the bill for the ceremony in the registry office and the wedding party,
money disappears on a mass of obligatory pre- and post-nuptual events.
The grooms family has to find the bride price or kelin puli, pay for the
ceremony when the bride arrives at the grooms house, known as kelin tushdi,
and hold compulsory feasts and exchanges of presents and money.
On the wedding day, they have to stump up for a wedding cortege including the
mandatory limousine and up to 15 cars, which have to be all the same colour and
of a more exotic brand than the common Russian models.
This fleet of vehicles will carry the numerous guests to the wedding and on to
the toykhana, the special hall used for receptions. This is a change from the
traditional-style Uzbek weddings here, which used to be held in a local
courtyard in a residential area.
The obsession with luxury weddings has spawned a number of spin-off industries.
There are about 20 toykhanas in Turkestan alone, so busy that their daily
schedules are planned in detail a month in advance. The city also has four
limousine hire companies and 15 salons which rent out wedding dresses.
The cult of lavish weddings among Uzbeks in southern Kazakstan not only
impoverishes families, but also deters people in nearby Uzbekistan from
marrying into the region.
I wanted to suggest that my nephew from Tashkent should marry a local girl,
but he refused, saying he couldnt afford a Turkestan-style wedding, said
Turkestan resident Sirojiddin Ubaydulloev. Things in Tashkent are done much
Local ethnographer and historian Kenes Ismailov notes that ethnic Kazaks also
go in for costly weddings, but their standard of living tends to be higher, so
the outlay is less ruinous.
We have a stereotype the richer the celebration, the more respect you get,
said Ismailov. Costly weddings have become a matter of image. If you want
serious people to have any regard for your family, you must demonstrate your
familys power at a wedding. Its entirely impractical; its as if our powers
of reason have gone to sleep.
For the Uzbek community, the enormous expenditure condemns families to a life
of debt, and some reformers are now trying to wean people off the ruinous
The Uzbek Cultural Centre in Turkestan, for example, is encouraging less
extravagant ceremonies involving downsized toykhana parties.
Mahbuba Aymetova, who chairs the womens council at the cultural centre, says
wedding dresses are another area where economies could be made. Renting a dress
usually costs from 100 to 400 dollars, whereas a colourful Uzbek traditional
dress is far less pricy and can be used for years.
Aymetova, a lawyer by training, gives regular talks at workshops with women, in
schools and through the media to encourage more moderate spending on marriages.
Her latest idea is for a celebration commission. It would consist of eight
to ten authoritative people in Turkestan who would agree a time and form for
the celebration with both sets of parents, and ensure the agreement is
honoured, she explained.
The commission could even coordinate weddings so that if one family held its
ceremony one day, the neighbours could hold theirs the next, and excess food
could be passed on rather than thrown away.
A variety of other solutions are being offered. Mutalib Yuldashev, a member of
the South Kazakstan regional council, believes the committees in charge of each
mahalla or neighbourhood should step in, while others argue the legal system
or religion should play a stronger role.
Iriskul Aitmetov, a former lawyer who founded the Uzbek Cultural Centre,
advocates a new law that would set out the rules conducting weddings.
Weddings have gone completely crazy; theres no other word for it, he said.
We need a law to regulate how the rite is conducted.
Aytmetov has been using his position as a respected elder in the village of
Karachik to encourage local couples to hold modest celebrations in the Muslim
tradition. These cost a tenth or less than the full-blown variety, and are over
within a few hours as opposed to several days. In line with Islamic precepts,
the bride's costume is expected to be muted rather than lavish, and no alcohol
The overtly religious aspect of these ceremonies worries the local authorities,
who remain deeply suspicious of anything that might promote the emergence of
But local journalist Shamirza Madaliev says economical weddings based on
Islamic tenets is a realistic alternative for poor farming families, who are
otherwise under pressure to keep up with everyone else.
The problem is that my [Uzbek] people are quick to follow others, he said.
They have a misplaced concept of prestige and are afraid to look worse than
Zinaida Savina is an IWPR contributor in Shymkent, southern Kazakstan.
REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique
insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local journalists,
the service publishes news and analysis from across Central Asia on a weekly
The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty, Bishkek,
Tashkent and London, which supports media development and encourages better
local and international understanding of the region.
IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the Global Conflict Prevention
Pool of UK government and Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The opinions expressed in Reporting Central Asia are those of the authors and
do not necessarily represent those of the publication or of IWPR.
REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA: Editor-in-Chief: Anthony Borden; Managing Editor: Yigal
Chazan; Senior Editor: John MacLeod; Central Asia Editor: Saule
Mukhametrakhimova; Programme Director: Kumar Bekbolotov.
IWPR PROJECT DEVELOPMENT AND SUPPORT: Executive Director: Anthony Borden;
Strategy & Assessment Director: Alan Davis; Chief Programme Officer: Mike Day.
IWPR builds democracy at the frontlines of conflict and change through the
power of professional journalism. IWPR programs provide intensive hands-on
training, extensive reporting and publishing, and ambitious initiatives to
build the capacity of local media. Supporting peace-building, development and
the rule of law, IWPR gives responsible local media a voice.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting
48 Grays Inn Road, London WC1X 8LT, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7831 1030 Fax: +44 (0)20 7831 1050
For further details on this project and other information services and media
programmes, go to: www.iwpr.net
ISSN: 1477-7924 Copyright © 2008 The Institute for War & Peace Reporting
If you wish to change your subscription details or unsubscribe please go to: