WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 545, May 17, 2008
THREE YEARS ON, ANDIJAN STILL WAITS FOR TRUTH. Three years after Uzbek security
forces fired into a crowd of demonstrators, the chances of a proper independent
remain minimal. By News Briefing Central Asia staff
CENTRAL ASIA SEES LEAN YEAR AHEAD
Plague of locusts, water shortages and rising food prices conspire against a
region where life is tough at the best of times. By IWPR staff in Central Asia
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THREE YEARS ON, ANDIJAN STILL WAITS FOR TRUTH
By News Briefing Central Asia staff
Three years after Uzbek security forces turned their guns on a crowd of
demonstrators in the eastern city of Andijan, the chances that a proper
independent investigation will be ever be carried out remain minimal.
The government of Uzbekistan seems set on effacing the 2005 shootings from the
country's historical memory. The public, meanwhile, block the event out of
their own minds, for fear that remembering it will bring unpleasant
May 13 was the third anniversary of the day government forces opened fire on
demonstrators in the city centre. Officials said 189 people died and more than
500 were injured, while independent human rights organisations claim the true
number of dead was closer to 800.
The authorities accused the protesters of being members of radical Islamic
terror groups which they named as Akramia, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and al-Qaeda. They
proceeded to arrest anyone they deemed to be ringleaders of the protests, plus
eyewitnesses, human rights activists, journalists, and anyone else who
expressed views different from their own.
The government responded to pressure for an independent international
investigation by closing down the missions of foreign organisations assisting
civil society and media development.
In November 2005, the European Union placed sanctions on Uzbekistan, consisting
of a visa ban for several high-ranking officials held directly responsible for
the violence, and an embargo on arms sales.
After his re-election last year in a ballot of dubious constitutionality, for
the third term contrary to the Constitution, President Islam Karimov started
hinting at plans to implement liberal reforms. He freed a few human rights
activists under amnesty, he saw through a the abolition of the death penalty,
and he let the International Committee of the Red Cross in to inspect prisons.
Analysts say these actions resulted in the almost complete lifting of the
sanctions when the EU reviewed the matter on April 29. The visa ban was
suspended for six months, leaving just the embargo on arms sales.
Yet three years on, Andijan remains a dark stain on the country's history, and
is rarely even discussed openly by people living in Uzbekistan.
One street trader in Andijan said the mood was still one of "trepidation and
the expectation of repression".
"If I talk about Andijan, I will draw down danger and problems upon myself," he
An observer who recently visited the city commented on the "extremely
depressed" atmosphere there. This was a society, he concluded, that harboured
no hopes of a fair investigation.
Meanwhile, the authorities studiously avoid mentioning the subject.
"No one talks about Andijan any more, not even President Karimov, who once
talked about the 'terrorists' who seized control of [government] institutions
in Andijan," said the observer.
"The tragedy has been thrown on the junkheap of history."
Nadezhda Atayeva, the head of the Paris-based Human Rights in Central Asia
Association, says there is no longer any chance of an objective investigation.
She explained how the authorities have "neutralised" society by purging it of
its active members - human rights activists, journalists, and opposition
supporters. Secondly, there can be no access to centrally-held comprehensive
documentation, as it has been either hushed up or destroyed.
"The mass murder of people that took place in Andijan - as confirmed by human
rights reports collated from eyewitness testimony - is a crime against
humanity," she said. "The authorities therefore want to make May 13, 2005 a
secret of history."
(NBCA is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and
comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of
political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to
September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the
service is resuming, covering only Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan for the moment.)
CENTRAL ASIA SEES LEAN YEAR AHEAD
Plague of locusts, water shortages and rising food prices conspire against a
region where life is tough at the best of times.
By IWPR staff in Central Asia
Already struggling with shortages of water and electricity and the impact of
global food price rises, Central Asia has been hit by yet another curse - a
plague of locusts that adds to other threats to the region's ability to feed
Parts of the region, especially Tajikistan in the south, suffer from locust
invasions on an almost annual basis. This year, an unusually warm spring is
being blamed for the intensive reproduction cycle of the Moroccan locust
Even though the winter was exceptionally cold across the region, the weather
subsequently became so hot that vegetation rapidly dried out, forcing the
swarms to migrate more rapidly than normally to satisfy their constant hunger.
As a result, there are fears that efforts to contain the spread of the insects
will be inadequate and they will cause significant to crops.
In Kazakstan, the latest data indicate that the locust infestation has already
damaged 200,000 hectares of land in the South Kazakstan region. Here it is
livestock breeders who have been worst affected, forced to sell off their
animals because the locusts destroyed their forage crops.
According to the agriculture ministry in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, more than
50,000 hectares of land have been destroyed. The ministry does not have
crop-spraying planes to attack the swarms, and is having to bring in private
firms to do the job.
There are no figures for Uzbekistan, but 150,000 hectares of farmland is known
to have been attacked by locusts in Tajikistan. United Nations representatives
say Tajikistan needs urgent help to combat the infestation, which is spread
over four times the area occupied last year.
The UN is allocating 13 million dollars for pesticide treatment, but says the
country needs a total of 25 million if it is to save its crops.
Political analyst Rashid Abdullo argues that at a regional level, the war on
locusts is ineffective because the various states no longer coordinate their
actions. "In Soviet times, this problem was addressed comprehensively by all
the [Central Asian] republics and neighbouring Afghanistan," he said. "Now each
country tackles its problems alone on the basis of self-interest, and according
to its economic and technical capacity to do so."
This year's locust invasion comes at a time when parts of Central Asia are
still recovering from severe energy crises caused by an abnormal winter freeze.
In February, the Tajik government was forced to international funding after
suffering losses of about 850 million dollars over the winter.
The destruction of new crops also comes in the wake of price rises that have
affected food products in the poorest regional states - Kyrgyzstan and
Tajikistan, where more than half the population lives in poverty. Last autumn,
bread prices saw increases of 200 or 300 per cent.
Added to this is a ban on grain sales by Kazakstan, the region's breadbasket,
imposed to keep domestic prices from going up in an environment of rising world
fuel prices. Exports halted in April and are expected to resume only in
September, and this is expected to create real difficulties for purchasing
countries like Kyrgyzstan.
A former Kyrgyz agriculture minister, Jumakadyr Akeneev, says that at around
60,000 tons, reserves of wheat are currently much lower than they should be.
Food security is laid down in law in Kyrgyzstan, and the rule is that the state
should maintain reserves of basic foodstuffs sufficient to feed vulnerable
social groups for a three-month period. That means a figure of 250,000 tons of
wheat, a staple item.
"There is currently a potential threat to grain security," said Akeneev.
Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiev asked for help with grain and wheat when he
visited Kazakstan recently, but nothing has materialised yet and current stocks
are running out.
"Everybody is hoping Kazakstan will set aside 300,000 tons of wheat, as
provided for by a verbal agreement between the presidents of the two
countries," said Akeneev. "Yet one should be realistic - there is no official
contract saying this amount has to be supplied to Kyrgyzstan."
He added that 300,000 tons would see Kyrgyzstan though to its own next harvest
in three months' time.
Akeneev believe the current shortfall could be relieved in future if government
bought wheat from private farmers at a good price. The low prices paid in
recent years have led farmers to curtail the area they assign to this
It is hard to say how close Kyrgyzstan could get to ensuring its own food
security, as it is not even clear how much land there is available. The
official figures say at least 780,000 hectares, while agriculture ministry
staff say the reality is much less than that.
Agriculture Minister Arstanbek Nogoev wants to create a "buffer-zone reserve",
which would entail the government securing supplies of grain by contracting
with farmers in advance of the harvest. The plan, which is included in a
broader agricultural reform programme, is to end up with a reserve of between
150,000 and 200,000 tons of wheat.
With large reserves, the state would then be in a position to step in and take
action whenever it wanted to reduce the effect of fluctuating market prices.
Kazakstan may provide a model, with a state agency that controls seven million
tons, a quarter of all the grain grown in the country. "Only by creating an
analogous agency in Kyrgyzstan will we be able to protect the domestic market
from speculators and from fluctuations on the world market, and provide
home-grown crops in the amounts that are need," said Nogoev.
If Kyrgyzstan buys about 30 per cent of the wheat it consumes from Kazakstan
every year, Tajikistan imports more than 40 per cent of its wheat. One reason
for this is that much of the arable land available is given over to cotton, a
lucrative export earner, rather than cereals.
Some economists say the country should switch from cotton to growing its own
However, political analyst Parviz Mullojanov pointed out that even if radical
restructuring of the farming sector were to be undertaken, it would take years
to carry it though - whereas the food crisis is being felt now.
He painted a gloomy picture of what would happen if further rises in food
prices later this year were followed by more energy shortages, "The conjunction
of these two factors could create very serious social tensions in most of the
countries of the region, including Tajikistan."
The prospects for a good harvest across Central Asia this year are made even
less good by unseasonably low water levels. The extreme, prolonged frosts over
the winter created huge demand for electricity, forcing the governments of
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to increase the rate at which water was let out of
their mountain reservoirs to drive the generating turbines.
The water level in the Toktogul reservoir, which generates 40 per cent of
Kyrgyzstan's electricity, is at a critically low level and output has become
erratic. Even the capital Bishkek is experiencing blackouts of 13 or 14 hours.
The authorities say river levels are at least 50 per cent lower than is normal
for this time of year, due to low rainfall and slower-than-usual melting of
Baratali Koshmatov, director of the water management department in the Kyrgyz
agriculture ministry, told IWPR that farmers had been asked to plant crops that
need little irrigation, as a way of conserving water.
Downstream from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the low river levels are also taking
their toll on cotton, rice and wheat plantations in Kazakstan and Uzbekistan.
Some 450,000 hectares of irrigated land is under threat in Kazakstan, and more
than three million hectares in Uzbekistan.
The lack of water, and its effect on food and cash crops, affects all these
countries. But Kazakastan and Uzbekistan can at least import the extra food
they need, using revenue from oil and gas sales. Neither Tajikistan nor
Kyrgyzstan has that option.
Firuz Saidov, an economist in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, said high world food
prices coupled with the range of problems now disrupting life in Tajikistan and
Kyrgyzstan - energy, water and locusts to name but three - could have serious
"To obtain flour, people will reduce their consumption of other foodstuffs," he
explained. "The staple foodstuff is bread, so if it becomes unaffordable, it
will have a major impact and will reduce the standard of living of the poorest
sections of the population."
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