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

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 Kazakstan’s commercial capital, 
parents and teachers say it may not be enough.  By Marik Koshbaev in Almaty

impoverish the community, campaigners are urging changes in the law. By Zinaida 
Savina in Shymkent


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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 Kyrgyzstan’s 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 
previous director-general. 

After protesters were barred from entering the TV building in Bishkek, the 
hunger strikers, now numbering 13, continued their action in Bekeshov’s 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 station’s 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 
Eshimkanov’s 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, 
unprofessional programmes.” 

The director-general noted that the company’s 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 don’t 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 chief’s diagnosis. Jyldyz Muslimova, who 
monitors the broadcaster’s 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 don’t like the new leadership’s 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 country’s leadership in 
March 2005. One of the complaints voiced by protesters at the time was that the 
national TV station’s 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 
and 2007. 

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 Kyrgyzstan’s 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 December’s 
parliamentary election. 

During the election campaign, many opposition parties accused the state 
broadcasting company of bias. They said NTRC, the only station covering the 
country’s 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 Maychiev’s work, says the 
current stalemate will do nothing to advance the stalled reform process. 

“This scandal will not improve the channel,” he said. “It’s 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 doesn’t reach everywhere – NTRK has a multi-million budget, it supports 
a massive staff yet it can’t broadcast to all corners of the country.” 

However the current dispute is resolved, few analysts disagree that the state 
broadcaster’s performance could be improved. 

Marat Tokoev, who chairs the Journalist’s 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, Eshimkanov’s mistake, he said, was to underestimate all this 
cultural baggage. 

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 
people’s 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 who’ve 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 Eshimkanov’s 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. 


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 people’s 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 
provincial authorities.

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, Jehovah’s 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 people’s 
constitutional right to freedom of religion. 

But faith group representatives, evangelical Christians in particular, are 
seriously disturbed.

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 
citizens’s views along the lines that ‘this religion is trustworthy but that 
one isn’t’ is dangerous. The state mustn't divide confessions into traditional 
and non-traditional, harmful and useful. State policy must unite rather than 
divide people.”

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 
national security. 

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.


As a spate of armed incidents in classrooms prompts new security measures in 
Kazakstan’s 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 Kazakstan’s 
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 Almaty’s 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 city’s 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 

“We’ve 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 
didn’t leave everything up to the poor teachers.” 

Several pupils confirmed to IWPR that it is not difficult to get hold of guns 
these days. 

“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 
need them.” 

Daulet and Asylbek, friends in the final year at an Almaty high school, agreed 
that weapons were becoming indispensable for young people like them.

“It’s 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 they’d 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 children’s 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 
during fights.

“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 today’s 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.


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 groom’s 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, Aydin’s 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 city’s 150,000 residents. 

“In recent years, weddings have become really competitive; it’s 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 don’t 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 groom’s family has to find the “bride price” or “kelin puli”, pay for the 
ceremony when the bride arrives at the groom’s 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 couldn’t afford a Turkestan-style wedding,” said 
Turkestan resident Sirojiddin Ubaydulloev. “Things in Tashkent are done much 
more modestly.” 

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 
family’s power at a wedding. It’s entirely impractical; it’s 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 women’s 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; there’s 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 
is served. 

The overtly religious aspect of these ceremonies worries the local authorities, 
who remain deeply suspicious of anything that might promote the emergence of 
radical Islam. 

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 
their neighbours.”

Zinaida Savina is an IWPR contributor in Shymkent, southern Kazakstan.

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