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
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 JEHOVAHS WITNESS BAN Faith group loses court
battle over right to operate. By Lola Olimova and Aslibegim Manzarshoeva in
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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 Bakievs 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 Madumarovs 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 presidents 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 presidents 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
Bakievs 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 Isakovs work had left him feeling aggrieved.
However, many analysts see Isakovs departure as a real blow to Bakiev, while
Jany Kyrgyzstans threat to mount protests should be taken seriously.
Isakovs reputation is impeccable, political analyst Orozbek Moldaliev told
IWPR, noting in particular that Isakovs 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,
Soon after Isakovs 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
Appointing Madumarov may have been a first attempt by Bakiev to address these
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
One faction, led by presidential aide Usen Sydykov, is believed to be at
loggerheads with another group headed by the presidents son Maxim Bakiev and
presidential chief of staff Medet Sadyrkulov. A third faction within the regime
is led by the presidents 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, Sydykovs 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
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
is attempting to bring back influential politicians so that they
dont join the opposition.
Asel Sultanalieva is a pseudonym for a journalist in Bishkek.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Kyrgyzstans 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 couldnt see anything for
dust, he recalled. When I got home, my daughter was crying out that she
couldnt 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
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 dont work. Officials say they have to turn a blind eye to this
[substandard building work] because social and economic conditions are very
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 dont think about how earthquake-proof a building is when theyre
putting it up, said Zamirbek Bozov, deputy head of the architecture department
in Osh. They dont observe the seismic standards. No one consults an architect
or an engineer.
Its 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 dont 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
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 didnt 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.
Weve never had a penny for implementing the programme, and now its 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 Kyrgyzstans 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 hasnt convened in the last ten years.
In addition, the ministry hasnt 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 cant 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
The emergencies ministry said there were no fatalities although some structural
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
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 Baysakovs 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
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
Police have now shifted Kosanovs status from that of accused to a witness in
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 Baysakovs 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 Utkins 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 doesnt 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
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
I do think its being done for political reasons to knock the opposition out
of the running, said human rights activist Rozlana Taukina. Id say it has to
do with elections of some kind. I dont know whats 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, Im not sure that the authorities are really taking a rough line on the
opposition leaders cited in the case. I think its 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 thats been launched with regard to the
concealment of an individual whos 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
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
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
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 dont 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 Kazakstans second city Almaty, is equally
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. Its been
difficult for me to adapt to life here, he said. I cant 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 dont know whether it will work,
given the way local government operates. Its a good idea per se; the problem
is how its 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 hasnt been able to solve their problems before now,
its going to be even more difficult to do so now, he said. I fear it wont
work, and the enclaves wont take shape as people will just move out of them
Chebotaryov predicts that the exodus of oralman from Kazakstan will continue.
It isnt 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 Asias 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
years 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, Germanys 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
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 Tajikistans 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
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
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 countrys key export items. He said major consultancy firms were
forecasting that the slump in aluminium prices would last till mid-2009 at the
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 dont have large debt obligations, nor do we have a securities market,
said Koshlakov. Weve swum with the flow so far, and well 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
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
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 Tajikistans 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 its impossible to say whether it will all go to the bad or it will all be
Ravshan Abdullaev is an independent journalist in Tajikistan.
TAJIKISTAN: MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT JEHOVAHS 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 Jehovahs 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 Jehovahs
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 Jehovahs 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 Jehovahs 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 Jehovahs 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 Tajikistans 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 Jehovahs
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 Tajikistans 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
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 Jehovahs Witnesses is unconstitutional, not to
mention bad for Tajikistans 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 Jehovahs Witnesses go round the streets handing
out literature isnt 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
Lola Olimova is IWPRs editor for Tajikistan. Aslibegim Manzarshoeva is an
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