WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 552, October 22, 2008

POLITICS AND INFIGHTING IN KYRGYZSTAN  Beneath surface of a simple personnel 
switch there is layer upon layer of political and regional rivalries.  By Asel 
Sultanalieva in Bishkek

SPECIAL REPORT

KYRGYZ QUAKE RAISES QUESTIONS OVER SHODDY BUILDINGS  Following lethal 
earthquake, experts warn many more lives could be at risk as builders ignore 
safety standards.  By Asyl Osmonalieva in Bishkek and Janar Akaev in Osh

KAZAK OPPOSITION SEES POLITICAL OVERTONES TO CRIME CASE  Four politicians 
accused of helping a wanted businessman get asylum abroad – but is that 
actually a crime?  By Anton Dosybiev in Almaty

CONCERN AT TOWNSHIP PLAN FOR DIASPORA KAZAKS  Placing Kazaks from other 
countries in special housing schemes may prevent them integrating properly.  By 
Natalya Napolskaya in Almaty

TAJIK ECONOMISTS FEAR IMPACT OF GLOBAL CRISIS  Central bank believes economy 
largely immune from international financial turbulence, but economists warn of 
multiple knock-on effects.  By Ravshan Abdullaev in Dushanbe

TAJIKISTAN: MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT JEHOVAH’S WITNESS BAN  Faith group loses court 
battle over right to operate.  By Lola Olimova and Aslibegim Manzarshoeva in 
Dushanbe

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POLITICS AND INFIGHTING IN KYRGYZSTAN

Beneath surface of a simple personnel switch there is layer upon layer of 
political and regional rivalries.

By Asel Sultanalieva in Bishkek

Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiev’s choice of Adakhan Madumarov to head the 
powerful Security Council appears to be an attempt to coopt the former speaker 
of parliament and avert the possibility that he might join the opposition, 
local analysts say.

At the same time, both Madumarov’s comeback and the sudden departure of his 
predecessor Ismail Isakov are being seen as the outward signs of turbulence 
within the political elite, in which several rival factions are competing for 
the president’s attention.

Bakiev named Madumarov as secretary of the Security Council on October 15, five 
days after Isakov announced he was stepping down because he was unhappy with 
the president’s domestic, foreign and personnel policies. In particular, Isakov 
talked about “increasing signs of authoritarianism”, and the spread of 
corruption in the police and judiciary.

Isakov also spoke out against what he said were procedural irregularities in 
the October 5 local elections, in which the Jany Kyrgyzstan party he heads 
performed disappointingly. Jany Kyrgyzstan is a long-established group with a 
pro-government rather than opposition stance, and includes many prominent 
establishment figures within its ranks.

Some analysts say Jany Kyrgyzstan has felt slighted by the emergence of 
Bakiev’s Ak Jol party, which swept the board in the December 2007 parliamentary 
election just two months after it was set up. 

In a statement on October 7, Jany Kyrgyzstan leaders blamed the Kyrgyz 
government and Ak Jol for the current economic crisis, in which the whole 
country is suffering periodic power-cuts, and threatened to stage protests in 
November if things did not improve. 

President Bakiev was dismissive of the stand taken by Isakov. He suggested that 
his own criticism of Isakov’s work had left him feeling aggrieved. 

However, many analysts see Isakov’s departure as a real blow to Bakiev, while 
Jany Kyrgyzstan’s threat to mount protests should be taken seriously. 

“Isakov’s reputation is impeccable,” political analyst Orozbek Moldaliev told 
IWPR, noting in particular that Isakov’s time as defence minister prior to 
joining the Security Council had won him a lot of credit in the military. 

“He and his Jany Kyrgyzstan party could win support regionally. As of today, 
there are real preconditions for nationwide political action,” said Moldaliev. 

Chronic shortages of fuel, food and electricity are likely to get worse over 
the winter, and would provide a potent set of issues for anti-Bakiev protests, 
and Jany Kyrgyzstan might find strategic allies in opposition parties like Ata 
Meken and Ak Shumkar. 

After months of silence, the opposition – which in past years repeatedly staged 
large demonstrations against Bakiev – has begun warning of fresh protests over 
the economic situation, and has indicated that it will work with anyone who 
shares its general aims. (For a recent attempt to capitalise on dissent within 
the regime, see Kyrgyz Opposition Rears Head Over Video Scandal, RCA No. 551, 
08-Oct-08.) 

Soon after Isakov’s resignation, Ata Meken leader Omurbek Tekebaev told the 
Bishkek Press Club that “there are issues on which politicians with polar 
opposite views can come together”. 

According to Mukar Cholponbaev, himself a former speaker of parliament and now 
an independent political analyst, “Bakiev now needs to move towards a coalition 
government, constitutional reform and an early parliamentary election – that is 
how he will hold onto power. If he will fail to do this, then opposition forces 
will unite.” 

Appointing Madumarov may have been a first attempt by Bakiev to address these 
issues. 

Madumarov was a major force in the opposition movement which ousted President 
Askar Akaev in the March 2005 revolution and brought Bakiev to power. He served 
as speaker of parliament for a year until May 2008, when he was forced to step 
down because of a controversy over the refurbishment of the Kyrgyz parliament. 

It gets more complex than that, though. While Bakiev and the opposition are at 
loggerheads, analysts say that within the political establishment there are a 
number of rival groupings vying for influence and plotting against one another 
other. 

One faction, led by presidential aide Usen Sydykov, is believed to be at 
loggerheads with another group headed by the president’s son Maxim Bakiev and 
presidential chief of staff Medet Sadyrkulov. A third faction within the regime 
is led by the president’s brother Janysh Bakiev. 

Regional allegiances are important in Kyrgyzstan. Most of the leading 
revolutionaries – and hence most of the current administration including the 
president – hail from the south. But these days, the Maxim Bakiev/Sadyrkulov 
faction is thought to represent northern interests. 

By contrast, Sydykov’s group still includes many southerners, many of them 
leading lights in the 2005 revolution, and is linked to the Jany Kyrgyzstan 
party. The departure of one of them – Isakov – can thus be seen a blow to this 
faction and southern politicians generally, and a victory for the Maxim 
Bakiev/Sadyrkulov grouping. 

As Alikbek Jekshenkulov, a leading figure in the opposition Movement for 
Justice, put it in a recent interview for RFE/RL, “The statement made by 
Isakov, one of the most influential southerners, shows that Bakiev is starting 
to lose [the support of] the southern elite.” 

In that context, the president may have calculated that after losing Isakov, it 
was important not to gain another opponent in Madumarov. 

A southerner, Madumarov is not known to be associated with either Sydykov or 
Jany Kyrgyzstan, but he clearly harboured a grievance – he was so annoyed by 
having to resign as speaker that he also stepped down as an ordinary member of 
parliament. If he had chosen to act, he might well have gravitated towards Jany 
Kyrgyzstan rather than to the opposition. 

Appointing him to head the Security Council therefore kills two birds with one 
stone – it brings an influential politician back into the fold, and deprives 
both the opposition and Jany Kyrgyzstan of his potential support. 

As Green Party member Erkin Bulekbaev told the Akipress news agency, “The 
appointment of Madumarov as head of the Security Council clearly shows that the 
president… is attempting to bring back influential politicians so that they 
don’t join the opposition.” 

Asel Sultanalieva is a pseudonym for a journalist in Bishkek. 


SPECIAL REPORT

KYRGYZ QUAKE RAISES QUESTIONS OVER SHODDY BUILDINGS

Following lethal earthquake, experts warn many more lives could be at risk as 
builders ignore safety standards.

By Asyl Osmonalieva in Bishkek and Janar Akaev in Osh

After 74 people died in an earthquake in southern Kyrgyzstan, seismic experts 
say many more lives could be lost in future tremors because houses are so 
poorly constructed. 

The village of Nura, in the Alay district of Osh region, was all but destroyed 
on October 5 by a powerful earthquake measuring eight points on the Richter 
scale.

The 74 dead included 32 pre-school and 12 older children, in a settlement whose 
total population was 900. Forty people were injured and were taken to hospital. 

In the village, more than 120 houses were destroyed.

Teenage brothers Oskonbek and Umut were lucky to survive. As Umut told IWPR, 
“We were going to bed when the earthquake started. The ceiling and all the 
walls caved in on us, and we and our parents barely escaped from the ruins. We 
spent the whole night outside. I remember it was very cold and we were 
barefoot. In the morning, we found out that some of our classmates and friends 
had died.” 

HOUSES FELL LIKE PACK OF CARDS

Government officials acknowledge that the main reason why casualties were so 
high and so much damage was done was that the housing in Nura – mostly 
consisting of single-storey private homes built of mud bricks – was not 
constructed to the required seismic standards. 

Visiting the scene of the disaster two days later, President Kurmanbek Bakiev 
said, “I must confess that we build low-quality houses. Instead of foundations, 
there are two layers of stones, and the walls are just put on top of that. We 
could avoid tragedies if we started building earthquake-proof buildings.”

Bakir Jolchiev, the deputy minister for emergency situations, said his ministry 
had previously warned of the dangers of substandard construction, but had been 
ignored.

His ministry has recorded 11 earthquakes in Kyrgyzstan since the year, but 
until the latest one, none had resulted in fatalities. 

Tolgonbek Keneshev, the head of the State Agency for Architecture and 
Construction, told IWPR that almost the buildings in Nura were built over 50 
years ago, and even new ones continue to be built without either foundations or 
a strong frame. When the first big jolt hit the village, the mud-brick homes 
disintegrated. 

By contrast, the local school dating from 2006 survived intact, as it was built 
around a solid metal structure in line with seismic standards. The only other 
buildings left standing were a health clinic and four houses. 

Keneshev noted that the school was being used as a polling station for 
Kyrgyzstan’s local elections, held on October 5, and electoral officers brought 
in for the event were sleeping there. All of them survived.

Mamasali Abdrahmanov, a local resident who serving as an election observer, 
said he came out of the school and started helping people nearby, only reaching 
his own home two hours later.

“We ran out when we felt the first tremor, but we couldn’t see anything for 
dust,” he recalled. “When I got home, my daughter was crying out that she 
couldn’t breathe. We only just managed to save her life.”

POOR BUILDING PRACTICES PARTLY DUE TO IGNORANCE 

Seismologists and construction experts say it is common practice for villagers 
in Kyrgyzstan to put up houses without taking building regulations into 
account. 

Kenesh explained that Kyrgyzstan has building regulations that require builders 
to submit plans before starting work, and which – in theory at least – are 
backed up by stiff penalties. 

He explained that Gosstroynadzor, the supervisory arm of his state construction 
agency, “can impose fairly tough measures on people who build their own homes – 
fines up to the value of the house, or demolition. But in reality these 
mechanisms don’t work. Officials say they have to turn a blind eye to this 
[substandard building work] because social and economic conditions are very 
poor.” 

In practice, said Keneshov, the largest fine an offender might face would be 
2,000 soms, worth 50 US dollars. 

An architect who did not want to be named told IWPR that builders could evade 
penalties easily simply by paying off a building inspector.

“Villagers don’t think about how earthquake-proof a building is when they’re 
putting it up,” said Zamirbek Bozov, deputy head of the architecture department 
in Osh. “They don’t observe the seismic standards. No one consults an architect 
or an engineer. 

“It’s a widespread problem – all over the country houses are built badly, and 
everyone blames cites lack of money.” 

Keneshev added, “From the point of view of seismic safety, the biggest danger 
is privately-built houses that don’t adhere to the proper safety regulations.”

Builders interviewed by IWPR said part of the problem was that people did were 
unaware of the regulations and of easy methods of reinforcing a building using 
a metal or wooden frame.

The problem is not confined to remote rural areas, experts say. Larger 
settlement and even recently-built housing estates in urban areas are just as 
likely to collapse in the event of a big quake. 

“There are now 48 housing estates on the outskirts of the capital [Bishkek],” 
said Keneshev. “Almost all the homes there have been built using substandard 
construction materials and earthquake resistance regulations have not been 
followed.”

Akim Moldokulov lives in the village of Kum Aryk, not far from Bishkek, and had 
a house built there two years ago. “We still cannot move in because there are 
cracks have already appeared along the walls,” he said. “It seems the team of 
builders didn’t lay the foundations properly.”

GOVERNMENT ACCUSED OF IGNORING WARNINGS

Some experts blame the government for not doing enough to plan ahead for 
earthquakes, in a country located in a seismically-active zone. 

Seitbek Imanbekov heads the Construction Research and Design Institute in 
Bishkek, and complains that the authorities have never funded the seismic 
security programme that his institute developed in 2002.

The programme envisages a range of measures from creating an inventory of 
national housing stock to repairing shoddily-build structures and informing the 
public about seismic safety issues.

“We’ve never had a penny for implementing the programme, and now it’s nearing 
its end,” said Imanbekov.

Keneshev said investing in good design would work out cheaper in the end.

“In Japan, where earthquakes are frequent, they manage to avoid great loss of 
lives merely by having good-quality construction,” he said. “Skimping on 
quality will cost us dear.” 

Kanat Abdrahmatov, director of Kyrgyzstan’s Institute of Seismology, says his 
staff are allowed to divulge earthquake predictions only to the emergencies 
ministry, which he accuses of failing to act on the information. 

He explained, “The Institute of Seismology has no right to divulge information 
on impending earthquakes. We have to pass it to the emergencies ministry, where 
a special committee is supposed to decide how seriously the warnings should be 
taken. However, that committee hasn’t convened in the last ten years. 

“In addition, the ministry hasn’t got even one seismic prediction expert who 
would be in a position to evaluate our data.”

The deputy emergencies minister, Bakir Jolchiev defended his office, saying, 
“We respond to emergencies and as part of our preventive measures, we inform 
people of possible natural disasters.” 

Jolchiev said the ministry circulated annual reports to central government 
ministries as well as local government. “It is up to each agency to take 
appropriate action,” he added.

He noted that a working group consisting of experts from his ministry and from 
the State Agency for Architecture and Construction is currently drafting 
legislation on “seismic defence”, which delineates clear obligations and 
functions for every government institution that has a role to play.

More immediately, Jolchiev said the state architecture agency had been 
instructed to spend the next month checking buildings and strengthening them 
where necessary so as to prevent a further human tragedy.

In Nura, a decision has been taken not to resettle people in other areas. Those 
left homeless by the quake are to be given 140 temporary mobile homes to get 
them through the winter. 

Meanwhile, seismologists are predicting more tremors. Abdrahmatov says 
Kyrgyzstan is currently going through a cycle of seismic activity. 

“This cycle started in 2008 and will end in 2012, according to our data. Over 
this period, more earthquakes measuring seven or eight points on the Richter 
scale are possible,” he said.

“We can’t name an exact time for the tremors – no one can. But the very fact 
that we are in a period of [seismic] activity is cause for alarm.”

On October 13, southern Kyrgyzstan experienced an earth tremor that registered 
four points on the Richter scale in the city of Osh, and between five and six 
on the border with China. The epicentre was located inside China, 35 kilometres 
from Nura. 

The emergencies ministry said there were no fatalities although some structural 
damage occurred.

Asyl Osmonalieva and Janar Akaev are IWPR-trained journalists in Kyrgyzstan.



KAZAK OPPOSITION SEES POLITICAL OVERTONES TO CRIME CASE

Four politicians accused of helping a wanted businessman get asylum abroad – 
but is that actually a crime?

By Anton Dosybiev in Almaty

As the legal case in which four well-known politicians are accused of assisting 
an alleged criminal rumbles on, some analysts believe the authorities in 
Kazakstan are out to demolish the opposition.

However, officials deny there is any political motivation behind the 
prosecution of the four men and say it is entirely a matter for the criminal 
courts. 

In late September, the interior ministry announced that Azat party leader Bulat 
Abilov, National Social Democratic Party deputy leader Vladimir Kozlov, Alga 
party deputy head Amirjan Kosanov and Shanyrak movement leader Asylbek 
Kojahmetov had been charged in connection with an asylum application made by 
Kazak businessman Esentay Baysakov in Ukraine. 

Because they put their names to statements in support of Baysakov’s asylum 
claim, the interior ministry says the politicians have committed the offence of 
“covering up a serious or grave crime” – in other words assisting a fugitive 
from justice. 

Baysakov is wanted in Kazakstan in a case involving the alleged contract 
killing of another businessman in 2001. The Kazak authorities say they 
requested his extradition after discovering his whereabouts this year, but the 
Ukrainians turned them down on the grounds that Baysakov had been granted 
political asylum.

Police have now shifted Kosanov’s status from that of accused to a witness in 
the case. 

In a joint statement on October 8, all four opposition politicians demanded 
that they be treated equally. 

“It is becoming increasingly evident that this police persecution was ordered 
for political reasons in order to discredit the democratic forces,” said the 
statement, published on the Zonakz.net website. 

Abilov, Kozlov, Kosanov and Kojahmetov do not deny backing Baysakov’s asylum 
application, but argue that their actions do not constitute a crime. 

That view is shared by many legal experts. 

“Only acts that present a danger to the public and are set out in the criminal 
code can be treated as criminal cases,” lawyer Sergei Utkin told IWPR. 
“Providing documents to [the authorities in] another country with regard to a 
political asylum application, or lobbying for it, are not dangerous acts, and 
must certainly not be subject to prosecution.”

Utkin noted that the entire system of international arrangements for political 
asylum presupposes that states have a right to grant refuge to individuals even 
when they are wanted in another country.

Yevgeny Zhovtis, who heads the International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule 
of Law, a leading rights group in Kazakstan, shares Utkin’s view.

In an interview for RFE/RL on October 7, he said, “There is no notion in 
international practice of bringing criminal charges against people who submit a 
request in support of an asylum application in another country.”

Zhovtis cited other cases where high-profile individuals the Kazak authorities 
regarded as crime suspects have been granted asylum in Britain and Austria. 

The Kazak interior ministry insists it has a case. Spokesman Bagdat Kojahmetov 
said the law does cover the circumstances in question, in an appended 
commentary to the criminal code which deals with harbouring a suspect. 

“It doesn’t mean you hid him [the suspect] at home in the kitchen or under the 
bed,” Kojahmetov told IWPR. “In this case, investigators have made the legally 
sound assessment that this counts as assistance and concealment with regard to 
asylum in another country.” 

Legal complexities aside, some political commentators believe the case is a 
convenient way for the Kazak authorities to intimidate and weaken their 
opponents.

As there are no national elections scheduled until 2012, it is not clear why 
the authorities would have a particular need to hit out at the opposition right 
now. 

“I do think it’s being done for political reasons – to knock the opposition out 
of the running,” said human rights activist Rozlana Taukina. “I’d say it has to 
do with elections of some kind. I don’t know what’s cooking under the surface – 
whether the authorities are planning an [early] parliamentary or presidential 
election – but in any case, they want to remove leading opposition figures.”

By contrast, Eduard Poletaev, editor of the political magazine Mir Yevrazii, 
says, “I’m not sure that the authorities are really taking a rough line on the 
opposition leaders cited in the case. I think it’s a sort of warning.”

Speaking for the interior ministry, Kozhahmetov insisted, “This case is not 
politically motivated. We are not persecuting opposition members; we are 
investigating a criminal case that’s been launched with regard to the 
concealment of an individual who’s linked to a grave crime.”

Anton Dosybiev is an IWPR-trained journalist in Almaty.


CONCERN AT TOWNSHIP PLAN FOR DIASPORA KAZAKS

Placing Kazaks from other countries in special housing schemes may prevent them 
integrating properly.

By Natalya Napolskaya in Almaty

For the last decade, Kazaks have been making their way from places as far 
afield as Turkey and Mongolia back to the land their grandparents called home. 
Once in Kazakstan, however, they have not always found it easy to adjust, and 
some feel the government has not lived up to its pledge to welcome them with 
open arms.

Now the authorities have announced a new deal for the immigrants under which 
they would be housed in new purpose-built settlements. However, some 
commentators say this will create ghettos that will make it harder than ever 
for Kazaks from the diaspora to integrate into society.

In the early Nineties, the newly-independent state of Kazakstan threw open the 
doors to ethnic Kazaks abroad who wanted to settle there, and accorded them 
special legal status as “oralman”, meaning “returnee”. 

Many thousands of Kazaks fled to Mongolia, China and other countries in the 
late 1920s and 1930s, as the Soviet policy of “collectivising” farming wreaked 
havoc on their traditionally pastoral way of life. Others lived in what is now 
Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and found themselves citizens of those states 
after 1991. 

Apart from righting the wrongs done by Stalin, the government also wanted to 
increase the numbers of Kazaks, at the time significantly in the minority. 

About half a million Kazaks have come back over the last decade and a half, 
some under a quota system where they get subsidised, and others making their 
own way and trying to start a new life by themselves. 

Coming from a range of countries including Mongolia, China, Iran, Turkey, 
Afghanistan and Pakistan, some oralman have found it hard to make the 
adjustment, while for others it is a question of finding work.

Andrei Chebotaryov, director of the Alternativa Political Studies Centre, notes 
that some returning Kazaks have gone back to their home countries after finding 
they were worse off than before.

Asylbek and his family of three children moved to southern Kazakstan region 
from neighbouring Uzbekistan. For the last year and a half he and his family 
have been living in a rural settlement, but he is unable to afford a place of 
his own on the money the Kazak government gave him.

If he had moved here before 2004, his family would have been allocated housing, 
but since they arrived after that they were awarded a cash sum calculated by 
the number of people in the household. In their case, the housing subsidy came 
to just over 550,000 tenge, worth 4,500 US dollars. Asylbek had left behind a 
house and land plot in Uzbekistan which he was unable to sell.

“I had faith in the Kazak authorities’ invitation,” he said ruefully. 

To help people like Asylbek, the government has come up with a new scheme to 
build concentrated areas of housing specifically for oralman. The plan, 
announced on September 30, is to create townships in the vicinity of major 
cities, together with some kind of industry or other economic activity to 
provide a ready-made source of jobs.

The authorities have already set aside 300 hectares of land for one such 
settlement on the outskirts of Shymkent, the main city of South Kazakhstan 
region. An estimated 1,700 families will each receive a plot of land and a 
cheap loan to build a house on it. The government has committed itself to 
providing schools, hospitals and other services.

An official from the state migration agency told IWPR that the best job 
prospects for oralman Kazaks lies in agriculture, where there is a shortage of 
more than a million workers.

The housing plan has given rise to concerns that if diaspora Kazaks live apart 
from the rest of the population, it will only perpetuate their isolation.

Asylbek would be a possible candidate for a home in the Shymkent housing 
scheme, but he is sceptical.

“I don’t see why we need to isolate us from the indigenous residents and placed 
in reservations,” he said. “Even as things stand, we find it hard enough to 
adapt to conditions here.”

Abubakir, a market porter in Kazakstan’s second city Almaty, is equally 
unenthused. 

After arriving from Iran with his family of seven, he found it hard to 
communicate as Russian rather than Kazak is in widespread use, and even the 
written Kazak language is inaccessible to him since it is written in Cyrillic 
script. The old Arabic alphabet is still used by some diaspora Kazaks.

“When I came to my historical homeland, I was surprised to find that the 
majority of people in Kazakstan speak Russian in daily life. It’s been 
difficult for me to adapt to life here,” he said. “I can’t read documents or 
newspapers in my native language.”

Abubakir fears that such cultural barriers will persist into the next 
generation if the oralman are made to live in separate areas. 

“Now they are going to settle us separate from the local population. That means 
my children will grow up as foreigners in their ancestral homeland,” he said.

Many analysts are concerned that the scheme will not benefit the oralman 
community, and that in any case it may be badly executed.

Anton Morozov, a political analyst with the Institute for Strategic Studies, 
thinks the resettlement plan will work only if it is accompanied by a programme 
to help people integrate into society.

“If the oralman are settled in particular locations around cities and work is 
done to help them with the process of adaptation, then the idea can only be 
welcomed,” he said. “On the other hand, I don’t know whether it will work, 
given the way local government operates. It’s a good idea per se; the problem 
is how it’s going to be put into practice.”

Another analyst, Pyotr Svoik, recalled that previous initiatives to support 
returning Kazaks have not been entirely successful. 

“Given that the government hasn’t been able to solve their problems before now, 
it’s going to be even more difficult to do so now,” he said. “I fear it won’t 
work, and the enclaves won’t take shape as people will just move out of them 
again.”

Chebotaryov predicts that the exodus of oralman from Kazakstan will continue. 

“It isn’t clear whether the authorities will be able to provide a decent living 
for them,” he said. 

Natalya Napolskaya is an IWPR contributor in Almaty.


TAJIK ECONOMISTS FEAR IMPACT OF GLOBAL CRISIS

Central bank believes economy largely immune from international financial 
turbulence, but economists warn of multiple knock-on effects.

By Ravshan Abdullaev in Dushanbe

The international financial crisis may not have been felt in Tajikistan yet, 
but some analysts fear the shockwaves could wreak havoc on the weakest of 
Central Asia’s economies. 

As share prices around the world crash and banks face the threat of collapse, 
Tajikistan would appear at first sight to be relatively immune, as it has no 
stock market to speak of. 

The National Bank of Tajikistan circulated a statement saying the country was 
unlikely to be seriously affected. The principal risk, it said, was 
fluctuations in the value of the foreign currencies in which many people prefer 
to hold their savings. Since the summer, the national currency, the somoni, has 
actually strengthened against both the US dollar and the euro, although some 
economists are predicting that it will depreciate over coming months as the 
effects of the crisis kick in in the Tajik economy. 

The central bank statement recalled previous crises on world markets, in 1998 
and 2002, which Tajikistan got through largely unscathed, even bucking the 
trend by posting respectable rates of economic growth. 

However, economists interviewed by IWPR are concerned that the effects of this 
year’s economic turbulence will be different. 

First, the country is much more dependent than it used to be on foreign banks, 
many of which are now operating within tighter margins. As well as Russian and 
Kazak banks, Tajik financial institutions are now partnered with commercial 
lenders such as the American CitiBank, Germany’s Kommerzbank, and the Bank of 
China, as well as with development banks such as the World Bank, the European 
Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Asian Development Bank, and the 
Islamic Development Bank. 

As a result, Tajik banks are going to find it much more expensive to borrow 
from these institutions to finance domestic lending, which could in turn curb 
economic activity. 

Other, perhaps more serious risks, say economists, come from indirect factors. 

For instance, the growing economies of Russia and Kazakstan have in recent 
years attracted hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from Tajikistan. The 
money these people send home is of immense importance given Tajikistan’s ailing 
economy and crumbling social support system. In 2007, labour migrants 
transferred an estimated two billion dollars to the country – equivalent to 60 
per cent of gross domestic product, GDP, for the year. 

Economists are already predicting economic slowdowns in both Russia and 
Kazakstan, implying a contraction in labour markets that would hit those at the 
bottom of the heap, including Tajiks employed on building sites and in other 
manual jobs. 

Parviz Mullojanov, a leading analyst in Tajikistan, sums up the risks in 
alarming terms, “A substantial fall in migrant remittances creates the threat 
of financial catastrophe for the republic.” 

At the moment, migrant remittances help maintain stability in the current 
account – the overall balance of trade, services and financial transfers 
flowing in and out of the country. The trade balance, taken by itself, is 
currently severely in deficit. In the period January-June this year, the value 
of imports exceeded export revenues by more than a billion dollars, an 
imbalance which would be unsustainable without the money being sent back from 
Russia and elsewhere. 

Another risk comes from the prospect of rising prices in Russia, a major 
supplier of goods to Tajikistan. Higher import costs will inevitably spur 
inflation. 

Shifts in international commodity prices are likely to affect Tajikistan – for 
better and for worse. 

A public servant working for the Tajik government, who spoke on condition of 
anonymity, explained how the global slowdown had already led to falling demand 
and therefore lower prices for aluminium, which together with cotton is one of 
the country’s key export items. He said major consultancy firms were 
forecasting that the slump in aluminium prices would last till mid-2009 at the 
very least. 

At the same time, Professor Hojimahmad Umarov, a leading Tajik economist, 
believes the economy will find some relief as falling world oil prices 
translate into cheaper fuel imports. 

Mullojanov notes that Tajikistan remains highly dependent on foreign 
assistance, in the shape of grants and loans, which account for the equivalent 
to about half its annual budget. 

There is now a risk that foreign donors and lenders will reduce funding levels 
as part of their overall belt-tightening strategies.

“Western countries and organisations may cut assistance levels for Tajikistan, 
and this would have very serious consequences,” said Mullojanov. 

Umarov sees the possible reduction in western largesse as a major risk to the 
economy. As both the United States and Russian governments set aside billions 
of dollars to rescue their financial systems, developing countries like 
Tajikistan are bound to lose out, he says. 

Another economist, Georgy Koshlakov, is less pessimistic, saying that while he 
agrees with the predictions others are making about falling capital inflows, 
the effects will not be devastating. 

He argues that the foreign exposure of Tajik banks and the external financial 
support the country gets are both “negligible” in global terms. “No one is 
going to make economies on [capital] volumes like that,” he said. 

Koshlakov believes Tajikistan will ride the crisis out without its population 
being hit too hard. 

“We don’t have large debt obligations, nor do we have a securities market,” 
said Koshlakov. “We’ve swum with the flow so far, and we’ll go on doing so.” 

The government civil servant claims to have seen unpublished reports from the 
International Monetary Fund, IMF, warning that Tajikistan might default on its 
foreign debt repayments by the end of this year. 

He said that despite this prediction, he was certain that the global financial 
crisis would not result in default.

Other economists polled by IWPR agreed that – barring some unforeseen 
unexpected turn of events – Tajikistan was not going to default on its debt, 
currently equivalent to around 30 per cent of annual GDP, according to IMF 
figures. 

Many agreed that life would get tougher for the average Tajik citizen, as the 
somoni suffer depreciation, food and other costs go up and living standards 
fall. 

The government insider warned that a “food crisis” was now more likely. 

“Amid the banking crisis, food prices continue to rise on world markets,” he 
said. “The circumstances of Tajikistan’s impoverished population may worsen.” 

An employee at a major Tajik commercial bank, who also asked not to be named, 
told IWPR it was still too early to assess the real scale of the economic 
threat caused by external economic conditions. 

The Tajik banking world was still uncertain about how things would play out, he 
said, adding, “We understand perfectly well how serious all this is. But right 
now it’s impossible to say whether it will all go to the bad or it will all be 
OK.”

Ravshan Abdullaev is an independent journalist in Tajikistan.


TAJIKISTAN: MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT JEHOVAH’S WITNESS BAN

Faith group loses court battle over right to operate.

By Lola Olimova and Aslibegim Manzarshoeva in Dushanbe

A court order upholding a ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses highlights divisions 
in Tajikistan about whether such faith groups should be allowed to recruit 
converts from more established religious communities.

On September 29, a military court in Dushanbe ruled that the Jehovah’s 
Witnesses had acted illegally by importing religious literature, that this was 
the latest in a series of offences, and that the group was therefore prohibited 
from operating in Tajikistan. 

The legal case began with a civil court appeal by the Jehovah’s Witnesses 
against a decision by the Tajik culture ministry banned their organisation in 
October 2007, and also against the confiscation of over 500,000 copies of 
religious material on the border last year. 

Culture ministry officials described statements by the group as “extremist” and 
criticised its pacifist stance – members refuse to perform military service, 
which is mandatory in Tajikistan. 

The civil court passed the case to a military tribunal last December, 
apparently because the literature was confiscated by the security services, the 
religious rights watchdog Forum 18 reported.

Commenting on the latest ruling, Nazira Dodkhudoeva, a representative of the 
culture ministry department which oversees religious affairs, told Forum 18, 
“They are not allowed to function in Tajikistan. This is because the 
organisation violated Tajikistan's laws many times.”

The Jehovah’s Witnesses arrived in Tajikistan in 1997 and now number many 
ethnic Tajiks who have renounced Islam.

The authorities in Tajikistan keep a close eye on the faith groups of foreign 
origin which burgeoned after the fall of the Soviet Union and now proselytise 
actively. The issue of Christian groups that seek new members among the Muslim 
majority population is particularly sensitive. 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses did not issue an official statement on the court 
ruling, but a local member told IWPR that they would not be deterred.

“It is our obligation to serve Jehovah and spread what is reasonable, good and 
eternal,” he said. “The fact that they ban our organisation will not prevent us 
preaching all over the world. It will just be harder for us to do it.”

Analysts and commentators interviewed by IWPR spoke of the need to respect 
freedom of confession, but many also reflected the popular mood of suspicion 
towards faith groups that convert Muslims.

Abdulvohid Shamolov of Tajikistan’s Centre for Strategic Studies, for example, 
said it was fine for a diversity of groups to operate as long as they obeyed 
the law and avoided extremist ideologies. But he suggested that the Jehovah’s 
Witnesses crossed too many boundaries for traditionally-minded Tajiks.

Political scientist Parviz Mullojanov spoke of a “consensus of rejection” in 
society with regard to a group that he argues is controversial in many 
countries, not just Tajikistan.

Hajji Akbar Turajonzoda, a parliamentarian who was Tajikistan’s chief Muslim 
cleric in the early Nineties, voiced suspicions shared by many of what are 
called “non-traditional” faiths, as opposed to Islam and Russian Orthodox 
Christianity.

He suggested that many of these groups attracted converts among the poorest 
sections of society by offering food and other forms of assistance. At the same 
time, he said that if people joined such faiths of their own free will, there 
was nothing wrong with that.

“Really, there is no religion that presents a threat,” he said. 

Some argue that banning the Jehovah’s Witnesses is unconstitutional, not to 
mention bad for Tajikistan’s image abroad.

Shokirjon Hakimov, a lawyer and deputy head of the opposition Social Democratic 
Party, said a new law on religion allowed any faith group to operate as long as 
it paid its taxes and did not break the law.

“Having missionaries from the Jehovah’s Witnesses go round the streets handing 
out literature isn’t illegal,” he said, adding that it was wrong to ban any 
group merely on the grounds that it was felt to be offensive to mainstream 
religious communities. 

Lola Olimova is IWPR’s editor for Tajikistan. Aslibegim Manzarshoeva is an 
IWPR-trained journalist.

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