WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 539, 2 April, 2008

TAJIK-KYRGYZ WATER CLASH A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME  Unclear borders and poor 
communications blamed for latest dispute over water resources.  By Yrys 
Kadykeev in Bishkek and Jamila Majidova in Dushanbe 

KAZAK STATE TIGHTENS GRIP ON MEDIA  Sale of remaining shares in country’s 
biggest media empire consolidates state control of information.   By Marina 
Baymukhamedova in Almaty 

KAZAKSTAN KEEPS LID ON PUBLIC MEETINGS  Astana’s chairmanship of the OSCE 
unlikely to relax restrictions on freedom of assembly.  By Anton Dosybiev in 
Almaty 

SPECIAL REPORT

GENDER EQUALITY A DEAD LETTER IN TAJIKISTAN   Despite a raft of equal 
opportunity laws, women in this conservative society are often treated as 
chattels.  By Aslibegim Manzarshoeva and Jamila Majidova in Dushanbe 

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TAJIK-KYRGYZ WATER CLASH A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME

Unclear borders and poor communications blamed for latest dispute over water 
resources.

By Yrys Kadykeev in Bishkek and Jamila Majidova in Dushanbe 

Kyrgyzstan and its neighbour Tajikistan are caught up in a diplomatic spat 
after a local clash erupted on the two countries’ shared border over access to 
water. 

Although the two countries generally enjoy good relations, this dispute 
reflects the vital importance of water in Central Asia – exacerbated by the 
lack of clarity about where exactly international borders lie. 

The incident began on the evening of March 26 on the border of Kyrgyzstan’s 
southern Batken district and Isfara in Tajikistan. About 150 Tajiks, 
accompanied by their district government chief and police officers crossed 
what, according to Kyrgyzstan at least, is the border. 

Equipped with a digger, they proceeded to try to destroy a dam that was 
blocking an irrigation canal that feeds the land around the Tajik village of 
Hoja Alo as well as areas on the Kyrgyz side. 

At this point, Kyrgyz border guards arrived on the scene, and according to a 
statement they issued later, “assumed combat positions” and scared the Tajiks 
away. 

Tensions appeared to ease after Kyrgyz officials arrived and agreed to open the 
dam and resume the flow of water into Tajikistan. 

But the Kyrgyz border service reported another incident the following day, when 
another 150 or so villagers accompanied by frontier guards from Tajikistan 
crossed the border again. This time they started trying to clear the channel of 
the Isfara river. 

The Kyrgyz border forces moved in and “evicted them”, according to the 
statement they issued. 

On March 28, the Kyrgyz foreign ministry summoned the Tajik charge d’affaires 
to express the government’s concerns over the incident. It urged Tajikistan to 
take action to ensure similar “illegal actions” did not occur in future. 

Regional experts say the tensions over water highlight the need for better 
cross-border communications at a local level. 

They fear that growing pressure on land and water resources in the 
heavily-populated Fergana valley means clashes of this kind will happen again, 
and could potentially escalate into broader conflict. 

The canal at the centre of the dispute was dammed as a temporary measure, as 
part of a 300,000 US dollar project financed by the World Bank to clear and 
refurbish the waterway in Kyrgyzstan. 

The Tajiks insist the dam is located in an area where the boundary line between 
the two states has not been agreed. They say the Kyrgyz did not inform them 
that the canal was going to be blocked off, and they had to take action when 
they found themselves with no irrigation water during eight crucial days of the 
spring growing season. 

Muhiba Yoqubova, the mayor of Isfara, told IWPR that the Kyrgyz version of 
events was inaccurate, and that it failed to acknowledge the existence of 
different maps of the area. 

“We didn’t invade at all,” she said. “We recognise the [border shown on the] 
1924 map, while they use the 1958 map, which Tajikistan has never ratified. 
This territory is therefore under dispute, and as a rule agricultural and 
construction work is prohibited on disputed land until such time as an 
inter-governmental commission and joint commissions complete the demarcation.” 

In the Soviet Union, the borders between different constituent republics were 
mainly for administrative purposes. Especially in Central Asia’s difficult 
terrain, there were many areas where boundaries were never clearly mapped out 
on the ground. 

Yoqubova criticised the World Bank for getting involved in the canal work, 
saying this violated the institution’s rule that projects involving waterways 
in disputed areas should not be funded. 

“This project should have been coordinated with our [Tajik] agencies – with 
local government or at least with the water ministry,” she said. 

A statement from the Soghd regional administration, which covers the whole of 
northern Tajikistan, confirmed that the incident stemmed from a failure to 
notify the Tajiks of plans to refurbish the canal. 

Salamat Alamanov, head of the department for regional affairs in the Kyrgyz 
government, accepted that there had been a breakdown in communications. 

“The Kyrgyz side needed to carry out repairs on the system for several days, so 
they shut off the water supply temporarily,” he explained to IWPR. “But the 
Tajiks weren’t informed of this. We need to pay attention to such details and 
notify people about our actions in good time.” 

Alamanov said the squabble merely underlined the pressing need for new 
cross-border agreements on the use of water, under which each country would be 
able to put the case for its particular interests but also show regard for the 
needs of its neighbours. 

Vafo Niatbekov, a foreign policy specialist at the Tajik president’s Centre for 
Strategic Studies, added that it was important for diplomatic channels to be 
kept open between national leaderships so that local disputes of this kind 
could be either avoided or defused. 

Otherwise, he warned, such conflicts could escalate into “open armed 
confrontation”. 

“One can see a trend emerging for confrontations over water,” he continued. 
“They might start out as local spats, but they could grow to reach 
inter-governmental dimensions.” 

Parviz Mullojanov, a political scientist in Tajikistan, agreed that the 
situation called for a new approach to water and borders. 

In recent years, he said, these issues had been essentially “frozen” as 
governments ignored the need to demarcate their borders properly. One reason 
was the tortuous shape of the map in this part of the world; another was that 
there was a real fear that local communities might take matters into their own 
hands if a demarcation decision went against them and cut into their land. 

“These issues have always been acutely controversial,” noted Mullojanov. “But 
they’ve become especially acute in recent years as the population in these 
areas has grown, the demand for water has risen accordingly and, in 
consequence, there are more and more of these conflicts.” 

In Kyrgyzstan, political analyst Mars Sariev, said the real problem was that 
while there was communication between national leaderships, this was not 
transmitted down to the local level. 

“Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are holding high-level talks about water and energy 
cooperation, but this isn’t working at grassroots level,” he said. 

Several factors help to explain why the business of demarcating the border in 
the Fergana has proved so vexed. 

While Kyrgyz-Tajik relations have generally been good since both became 
independent in 1991, Nur Omarov, a political analyst in Kyrgyzstan, recalled 
the Soviet-era clashes that took place between Tajiks and Kyrgyz – again over 
land and water – in the so-called “hoe war” of 1989. 

Omarov fears that there will be more tensions of this kind, not least because 
land and water issues were compounded by a growing demographic imbalance in 
this part of the Fergana valley. While the Tajik side of the border is becoming 
more densely populated, Kyrgyz areas like Batken are emptying out as the rural 
population moves away, often to jobs in Russia. (See Tajiks Buying Up Kyrgyz 
Homes Near Border, RCA No. 503, 30-Jul-07.) 

“Conflicts of this kind aren’t going to stop here; there will be more of them,” 
warned Omarov. 

Yrys Kadykeev and Jamila Majidova are IWPR-trained journalists in Kyrgyzstan 
and Tajikistan, respectively. 


KAZAK STATE TIGHTENS GRIP ON MEDIA

Sale of remaining shares in country’s biggest media empire consolidates state 
control of information. 

By Marina Baymukhamedova in Almaty 

The Kazak government has moved in to buy up all remaining shares in the 
country’s largest broadcasting conglomerate, in a move that media-watchers have 
seen as an attempt to reinstate total control over the media.

At an auction in Almaty on March 21, the state-run company Samgau bought half 
the stock of Khabar, which had hitherto been in private hands. As the 
government already owned 50 per cent of the company, it now owns it entirely.

The Khabar group includes television and radio stations with the same name, 
plus the El Arna and Caspionet TV channels. It was created in 1995 out of the 
state TV and radio broadcaster, which in the shape of Khabar TV now covers 
virtually the entire country. 

Samgau was set up last spring by decree of Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbaev. 

The identity of the vendors of the stock, which went for 12 billion tenge or 
about 100 million US dollars, was kept under wraps.

Seytkazy Mataev, the president of the National Press Club of Kazakstan, said 
that given the size of the company, the Khabar shares were sold at a snip. The 
sell-off of a 20 per cent stake in the much smaller Channel 31 for 55 million 
dollars suggested that this firm had a much higher market value than Khabar. 

Media observers see this acquisition as an important milestone in the 
consolidation of government control over the media.

“The continuing nationalisation and centralisation of the most powerful media 
resources in the country is not for financial and economic reasons, but most 
likely for political reasons,” said Adil Jalilov, director of the Medianet 
centre for journalism. 

“I think the process is designed to ensure that the current president’s 
maintenance of power, or a handover of power, is smooth and surprise-free,” the 
expert continued. “It’s being done to prevent the unexpected…. The sale of a 
powerful media resource like Khabar doesn’t get left to chance, and outsiders 
don’t get a look in.” 

Kazak political scientist Oleg Sidorov agreed, saying, “A large media holding 
like this one, with a lot of public influence, can’t be left in private hands. 
These private owners have their own interests and might start playing political 
games… and as a result, the state could be left without a mouthpiece.”

Sidorov said a kind of “de-privatisation” was now under way in Kazakstan 
generally, with the state moving back in to take over key economic assets.

Rozlana Taukina, chair of the Journalists in Danger group, believes the Kazak 
leadership was jolted into action by developments last year, when Rakhat Aliev 
– then the president’s son-in-law and a major shareholder in the Khabar group – 
fell from grace. Stripped of his assets and divorced by Dariga Nazarbaeva, 
Aliev has since been sentenced in absentia to 20 years’ imprisonment for 
plotting a coup, kidnappings and other offences. 

Taukina believes the authorities were getting nervous about Khabar as an 
autonomous force wielding a lot of influence.

“Two years ago, Culture and Information Minister [Yermukhamet] Yertysbaev said 
the government planned to make Khabar a state company, as it was forming its 
own policies and might become an opponent of the government and the president,” 
she told IWPR.

At a press conference after the deal was announced, the new owners pledged not 
to change the company’s editorial policies. 

Industry insiders say that long before the formal nationalisation, Khabar had 
enjoyed a special relationship with the government. 

A staff member at Khabar, speaking on condition of anonymity, off the record, 
told IWPR the sale had long been expected. 

“I don’t think we will see much change, as Khabar has always been on a special 
footing with the government,” he said. 

Jalilov agreed, saying, “Khabar isn’t on equal terms with other Kazak TV 
channels. “This was apparent even in terms of accreditation. Many press 
conferences only start once the reporters from Khabar have arrived. Khabar is 
accredited everywhere, by default.” 

The media group’s influence is also apparent in terms of its reach. No other 
channel has the same reach – while Khabar TV is broadcast to all 16 of 
Kazakstan’s regions, Channel 31 TV, for instance, can be seen in only nine and 
KTK in eight.

“Despite the fact that other TV companies have regional offices, there are very 
many regions of Kazakstan where only Khabar broadcasts. I don’t think this is 
coincidental, nor is it fair,” said Jalilov. 

Many viewers in rural areas miss out on alternative TV channels. As one Almaty 
resident told IWPR, “It’s a pity other channels are not in an equal position. 
My parents live in a village and whenever I visit them, I always have to watch 
the same thing, Khabar.” 

Marina Baymukhamedova is an IWPR contributor in Almaty.


KAZAKSTAN KEEPS LID ON PUBLIC MEETINGS

Astana’s chairmanship of the OSCE unlikely to relax restrictions on freedom of 
assembly.

By Anton Dosybiev in Almaty 

Rights activists in Kazakstan say Astana’s success in winning the chairmanship 
of the OSCE in 2010 has had little effect on the tight restrictions surrounding 
freedom of assembly. 

In particular, they complain that the government places numerous obstacles in 
the way of public meetings and protests, and say this violates people’s 
constitutional right to assemble. 

Article 32 of the Kazak constitution says citizens have the right to gather 
peacefully for rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets. Moreover, this 
right may be limited only “in the interests of state security, public order, 
protection of health, and the protection of the rights and freedoms of other 
people”.

This latter phrase is borrowed from the United Nations’ International Covenant 
on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR, to which Kazakstan has signed up.

In practice, Kazak police quickly step in and disperse unauthorised public 
meetings, even when only a handful of people are involved.

When rights activist Olga Urazbekova recently staged a one-woman picket near 
the independence monument in Almaty, for example, police soon swooped.

Last year, activists condemned a ban slapped on plans to hold a demonstration 
commemorating the first anniversary of the death of Altynbek Sarsenbaev, an 
opposition activist murdered in February 2006.

In a statement, the activists said that as a signatory to the ICCPR, Kazakstan 
was obliged to observe its standards on freedom of assembly.

Activists believe the current national law on freedom of assembly is vague and 
restrictive, and the penalties too severe. 

As matters stand, requests to hold public meetings must be submitted to local 
authorities at least ten days before the scheduled meeting. The authorities are 
obliged to respond no less than five days before the date of the event 
indicated. 

Breaking the law by staging an unauthorised rally carries penalties ranging 
from fines to a year in jail.

There are also rules about where demonstrations can take place. In Almaty, for 
example, meetings and pickets have to be held in Sary-Arka square, on the 
outskirts of the city. The crowded centre is off-limits. According to one city 
official, large gatherings are unsuitable because they create a disturbance.

Ninel Fokina, chair of the Almaty-based Helsinki Committee and a member of the 
presidential Human Rights Commission, agrees that the right to freedom of 
assembly in Kazakstan does not meet the standards set by the ICCPR. 

“It doesn’t even satisfy our own constitution,” Fokina said. “Our freedom to 
hold peaceful meetings is limited by the law… [which] establishes very complex 
procedures for obtaining authorisation for a meeting.” 

“Political actions such as rallies or protests against the construction of the 
entertainment centre near Republic Square [in Almaty] are simply impossible 
because no one will give permission. If people go to a rally, they are breaking 
the law.”

Activists say the problem is not confined to police harassment of open-air 
meetings. They say the authorities find many ways to restrict indoor meetings 
such as conventions and congresses, although in theory, the law does not apply 
to such events. 

Petr Svoik, a leader of the opposition Azat party (renamed from Nagyz Ak Jol), 
says political parties, especially those which oppose the government, face a 
challenge when they try to gather.

“Even when an [opposition] organisation is ready to pay [rent a hall], it’s not 
allowed to, on various pretexts,” he said. “Our experience is that such 
meetings have to be held in expensive hotels owned by foreigners.” 

These de facto restrictions on the right to assemble indoors hit Kazak 
opposition groups and parties hard, as public meetings are one of the few ways 
they have to communicate their message to the public. 

None holds any seats in the current lower house of parliament. All 107 seats in 
the legislator belong to Nur Otan, the party loyal to President Nursultan 
Nazarbayev. 

Svoik says the restricted freedom of assembly means opposition parties cannot 
speak to the electorate, and argues that this is incongruous for a country that 
intends to chair OSCE, which has democratic values and human rights as founding 
principles 

Activists say they doubt Astana’s diplomatic victory in securing the OSCE chair 
will lead to any liberalisation when it comes to allowing opponents to gather 
freely. 

“I don’t think Kazakstan’s chairmanship of the OSCE will radically change 
matters, not only on this issue [right of assembly] but also other civil rights 
and freedoms,” said Fokina. “I doubt anything will be done to develop freedoms 
which the authorities believe might threaten the current regime.”

Nor is there much popular pressure on the authorities to relax the 
restrictions. Fear of retribution has made young people and even civil society 
groups less than enthusiastic about standing up and being counted.

A straw poll that IWPR conducted among students in Almaty showed many saw 
little point in taking part in protests.

Ilyas, a student at the Kazak National University, said such actions had little 
effect and could rebound on the participants.

“If I go to a rally, it’s unlikely to change anything,” explained Ilyas. 
“Moreover, it could be dangerous – I might face problems at university, 
including expulsion.” 

He added, “I want to defend my civil rights but I also want to finish my higher 
education without having problems. That’s more important for me.” 

Human rights activist Rozlana Taukina complained that restrictions on rallies 
had left people unused to taking part in public gatherings.

“The pressure on people has been so great that they have stopped showing any 
initiative,” she said. 

Anton Dosybiev is an independent journalist in Almaty and a regular IWPR 
contributor.


SPECIAL REPORT

GENDER EQUALITY A DEAD LETTER IN TAJIKISTAN 

Despite a raft of equal opportunity laws, women in this conservative society 
are often treated as chattels.

By Aslibegim Manzarshoeva and Jamila Majidova in Dushanbe 

For six years now, Firuza has been trying unsuccessfully to get her house in 
southern Tajikistan back, through a succession of court actions. 

In the Nineties, she and her husband were allocated a small plot of land in 
Kulob (also known as Kulyab) and built a small house there. 

But dreams of domestic happiness faded as Firuza’s husband drifted into drug 
addiction. To get her husband away from bad company, she persuaded him to move 
to the capital, Dushanbe, where the two of them lived in a rented apartment for 
several years. 

The house in Kulob was left temporarily in the hands of her husband’s younger 
brother. 

When Firuza’s husband died of an overdose, she tried to return there, but her 
relatives refused to let her move back into the house. 

In pursuit of her claim, Firuza went through the court system all the way up to 
the Supreme Court, which ruled in her favour but it had no effect. Back in 
Kulyab, her family ignored the ruling and no one enforced it. 

Firuza, with two children to care for, says she is defenceless as she has no 
male relative who will stand up for her. 

“I can’t get anything done because I’m a woman,” she complained. Terrible 
things happen to women here - we are totally without our rights and that’s 
especially true of sisters-in-law and daughter-in-laws,” she adds. “If my 
brother was a prosecutor or a judge, no one would dare say a word against me.” 

Firuza’s story is typical of many women in this former Soviet republic. 

Despite the fact that the constitution guarantees equal rights to both sexes, 
women have far fewer rights than their male counterparts in reality. 

It is not that the government has been slack in addressing the issue. Since 
independence, it has passed domestic laws and ratified international 
conventions on gender equality, such as the 1979 United Nations Convention on 
the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, ??DAW. 

In 2005, parliament passed a law enshrining equal rights and opportunities, 
while the government has run two long-term programmes designed to bring about 
gender equality. 

Tatiana Bozrikova, chair of the non-government group Panorama, says the 
government takes gender equality seriously, but the problems come when 
legislation has to be translated into action. 

Women’s representation in national-level politics is reasonably high. Although 
there are no female ministers in the cabinet, women currently hold 17 per cent 
of seats in parliament. 

Bozrikova says this is not nearly enough, as the 2005 equal opportunities law 
demands equal representation of women in all government institutions. 

“Women do hold various secondary positions in government institutions, 
ministries and departments, but they haven’t yet reached 30 per cent in any of 
them, let alone equal representation,” she notes. 

In society as a whole, Bozrikova said, traditional gender stereotypes have 
changed little over the years. “The situation is changing, and the roles that 
men and women play in reality are changing, but views about what women should 
be like generally remain the same,” she said. “We are even seeing a resurgence 
of patriarchal attitudes.” 

Nodira Rahmonberdieva, coordinator of the National Association of Independent 
Media, explained that women were usually too busy scraping a living to engage 
in politics. 

Tajikistan remains a poor country and hundreds of thousands of its men go 
abroad to work as seasonal labour. Women are left at home, struggling to hold 
families together and to earn money if their husbands stop sending money back. 

Rahmonberdieva summed up the way society is still male-dominated by citing a 
proverb which encapsulates many men’s view that women are inferior - “Long 
hair, short on brains”. 

Other analysts agreed that traditional values held women in low esteem. 

“For 70 years [under the Soviets] we lived in conditions in which women were 
emancipated and veils were discarded,” said Bihojal Rahimova, a consultant for 
a land reform project run by UNIFEM, the UN Development Fund for Women and the 
UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. However, she said, “Over thousands of 
years, a patriarchal attitude has developed where women are subjected to the 
authority of men, who are the head of the family.” 

Traditionally, the role of women in Tajik society was to look after the home 
and raise children. 

While official legislation gives women equal status, custom and practice 
dictate that they have fewer property and inheritance rights. 

When women get divorced or their husbands die, they are often left without a 
share of the family home. 

Such was the experience of Idimoh, a 44-year-old widow from the Bokhtar 
district of southern Tajikistan. After she lost her husband, the sole family 
breadwinner, during the civil war of 1992-97, his relatives then kicked her and 
her three children out of the house. 

She returned to her parents’ home, where she took care of her sick mother. But 
when her brother returned from working in Russia, he forced her to leave that 
house as well. 

Her situation improved when a women’s rights group helped her go to court, 
where judges awarded her a small plot of land where she now lives. 

Idimoh was relatively fortunate. Many women, especially in the countryside 
where 70 per cent of the population lives, find it impossible to obtain 
justice. 

A UNIFEM study from 2006 on the land tenure rights of women in Tajikistan found 
that while the burden of agricultural work falls on women because the men are 
away working in Russia, they are not given equal access to resources including 
land. 

This imbalance is also reflected in the distribution of more responsible jobs – 
while more women than men work the land, they only accounted for 15 per cent of 
farm managers and technical experts. 

Women are paid half what male farmworkers get, and they also have less of a 
chance to acquire their own land. In the process of land privatisation, most 
plots are allocated to men. Only six per cent of private farms are registered 
in the name of women, and they average less than half the size of the 
farmholdings owned by their male counterparts. 

Rangina Nazrieva, an agricultural specialist with the International Finance 
Corporation, complains that few rural women assert their rights and improve 
their position, largely because they lack the general education and legal 
knowledge to do so. 

Improving women’s education in rural areas will be an uphill struggle. In 
village communities, there is a strong tradition that girls ought not to 
continue in school past their teenage years, and should instead marry and 
become housewives. (See Tajikistan: Teenage Girls Dropping Out of School, RCA 
No. 481, 02-Feb-07.) 

Local authorities do little to improve the lot of women. 

“If local government won’t support women, then there’s really nothing that can 
be done,” said Nazrieva. 

This is certainly the experience of Jannatbi, a housewife and mother who tried 
to lease land from the state and start up a private farm in the village of Rohi 
Lenin, in Bokhtar district, last year. 

Local officials were uncooperative, with one telling her she would not be able 
to pay her rent on time and saying, “Women are less capable of working and do 
not have organisational skills”. 

Margarita Khegay, head of Traditions and Modernity, a local NGO, says Tajik 
society is doing itself no favours by keeping women in check. 

Unless drastic measures are taken to make theoretical gender equality a 
reality, Tajikistan will have difficulty in extricating itself from its current 
economic crisis, she warned. 

Aslibegim Manzarshoeva and Jamila Majidova are IWPR-trained journalists in 
Dushanbe. 

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