aspect of country’s massive vulnerability to external economic shocks.  By 
Elena Miller and Lola Olimova in Dushanbe (RCA No. 566, 13-Feb-09)

correct trade and monetary imbalance, but may spark inflation.  By Marik 
Koshabaev and Daulet Kanagatuly in Almaty (RCA No. 566, 13-Feb-09)

demands from teachers and politicians to put new examination system on hold.  
By Olga Shevchenko in Almaty (RCA No. 566, 12-Feb-09) 

FEARS OF POLICE STATE IN KAZAKSTAN  Rights groups fear wider use of intercepts 
could erode civil liberties.  By Daulet Kanagatuly in Almaty (RCA No. 566, 

DISMAY AT KYRGYZ ENVOY’S NEO-NAZI TALKS  Rights groups say negotiating with 
Russian far right will do nothing to stop racist attacks.  By Mirgul Akimova in 
Bishkek (RCA No. 566, 13-Feb-09)


KYRGYZ REGIONS SOLDIER ON WITHOUT POWER  People in outlying areas come up with 
ingenious if dangerous solutions to energy shortages.  By Janar Akayev, Jannat 
Toktosunova, Jenish Aydarov, Kumondor Usupov, Zumrad Narzullaeva and Sanjar 
Eraliyev in Kyrgyzstan (RCA No. 566, 12-Feb-09)


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Troubled currency just one aspect of country’s massive vulnerability to 
external economic shocks.

By Elena Miller and Lola Olimova in Dushanbe 

Although Tajikistan’s currency appears to have stabilised after last week’s 
wobble, economists say the government is going to have to keep a firmer hand on 
monetary and economic policy, as the country remains highly vulnerable to 
external factors that it can do little about. 

The Tajik somoni underwent a sudden deprecation on February 2, when its 
exchange rate slipped by nearly seven per cent from 3.75 to 3.90 to the US 
dollar. Panic-buying later in the week pushed the rate down further to four 
somoni to the dollar, and traders reported that dollars were in short supply.

“This spike is a result of panic-buying of foreign currency fuelled by news of 
the [relative] rise in the dollar’s value,” said a central bank statement dated 
February 4. 

The National Bank of Tajikistan tried to calm nerves by assuring people they 
were taking “unnecessary risks” by buying dollars at unreasonably high rates. 
“The current situation will be short-lived and people will end up incurring big 
losses when the somoni recovers its real rate,” it said. 

A week later, on February 11, the bank was able to offer some reassurance, with 
an official telling the Asia Plus news agency that the somoni was gradually 
strengthening. Despite that, the US dollar – the premium foreign currency 
throughout the former Soviet Union – remained in short supply at exchange 
offices, which were clearly trying to stock up rather than sell what they had. 

Tajikistan has been hit hard by the international financial crisis, with its 
main exports – aluminium and cotton – fetching less on world markets, and a 
sharp fall in the amount of money that migrant workers are sending home from 
Russia and Kazakstan. 

The government is currently negotiating with the International Monetary Fund, 
IMF, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to secure loans 
worth over 200 million US dollars. 

The somoni’s exchange rate has been unstable for some time. At the beginning of 
this year the rate fell from 3.43 to 3.70 to the dollar, resulting in long 
queues at exchange offices.

Towards the end of January, the central bank said it had been intervening to 
maintain the currency’s value. With dwindling foreign currency and gold 
reserves, though, there is a limit to how long that could go on. Speaking 
earlier last month, central bank chief Sharif Rahimzoda said currency reserves 
had been depleted from 350 to 198 million dollars because of monetary 
interventions over the course of 2008.

A taxation service official who asked to remain anonymous was critical of what 
he said was the government’s dilatory response to obvious trends. 

He noted that an anti-crisis plan approved late last year were currently being 
revised following official talks World Bank and IMF, and the final version 
would not be ready until February 15. 

The tax official said Tajik financial institutions had failed to grasp the 
implications which the global financial crisis would have for the country’s 
economy. For too long, he said, they insisted that Tajikistan would be safe 
because its financial system was relatively isolated from world markets – 
ignoring changes in commodity prices.

December exports were 44 per cent down on the previous month, and some analysts 
believe the aluminium industry has lost 100 million dollars in revenues in the 
last few months.

“It was these price falls on world markets in recent months that resulted in 
Tajikistan receiving less foreign currency,” said Zarif Razikov of Bank 

Since workers’ remittances are believed to contribute to creating at least 40 
per cent of Tajikistan’s gross national product, job losses and pay cuts as the 
construction and other sectors contract in Russia and Kazakstan have had a 
major impact on Tajikistan. As well as providing sustenance for Tajik 
households and the businesses they buy from, the influx of money has enabled 
the central bank to build up its reserves in recent years.

Central bank figures show that migrant workers sent home money transfers of 
more than two billion dollars in the period from January to September last 
year. But after that, the transfers started falling away. 

The savings bank Amonatbank, for example, notes that remittances it handled in 
November were 25 per cent down on the previous year.

“We can explain this by noting that many of the labour migrants working in 
Russia have lost their jobs,” said Abunasir Sharipov, head of external 
relations at the bank.

Experts say that with traditional revenue sources drying up, the government 
needs to act resolutely.

With falling aluminium and cotton prices, the government “cannot expect to get 
the revenues that were projected earlier, and there is every reason to revise 
the budget and cut it down,” said the tax official.

Others argue the case for urgent action to promote domestic production. One 
obvious area for reform would be tax; a perennial complaint in the Tajik 
business community is that taxes are too numerous and too high. 

“In my view, the president – who decides everything – should act quickly and 
lower the tax burden with immediate effect,” said one businesswoman based in 
the capital Dushanbe. 

Another useful measure, she said would be to abolish import duty on equipment, 
machine-tools and spare parts so as to stimulate local manufacturing, while 
simultaneously raising the duties applicable to Chinese-made finished goods. 

“This will benefit our economy and domestic manufacturers,” she said.

Elena Miller is the pseudonym of a journalist in Bishkek. Lola Olimova is 
IWPR’s editor for Tajikistan.


Emergency measure designed to correct trade and monetary imbalance, but may 
spark inflation.

By Marik Koshabaev and Daulet Kanagatuly in Almaty 

Last week’s devaluation of the Kazakstan currency was too sudden and too late, 
and is fuelling inflation as a result, according to critics of the way the 
measure was introduced. 

The devaluation was announced on February 4 by Grigory Marchenko, who had been 
appointed as chairman of the National Bank of Kazakstan, NBK, only the week 
before. The tenge immediately tumbled from an exchange rate of about 120 to the 
dollar to around 150, the NBK’s new target rate.

For the last year, the NBK had been supporting the tenge at an exchange rate of 
around 120 to the US dollar. But as NBK officials acknowledged, that was 
becoming less and less tenable since the bank had been forced to sell foreign 
currency and gold reserves worth six billion dollars to maintain the tenge’s 
value. It could not afford to go on, especially as government revenues had been 
slashed by falling world oil prices. 

Secondly, Kazak exports priced in tenge had been growing increasingly expensive 
in countries like Russia, which had pursued a policy of gradual devaluation in 
the face of the global financial turbulence of recent months. Realigning the 
tenge to fit the new trading conditions could give a boost to Kazak producers 
who make items for export. 

However, another effect of devaluation is to make imports more expensive. 

The minister for industry and trade, Vladimir Shkolnik, told a cabinet meeting 
on February 9 that the prices of basic foodstuffs had rocketed in the first 
week following devaluation. He attributed this sudden inflation to imported 
items, products made locally out of raw materials from abroad, and those whose 
production was funded by loans denominated in dollars. 

At the same meeting, the chairman of Kazakstan’s anti-competition agency, Majit 
Esenbaev, predicted further price rises for wheat products, sugar, cooking oil, 
fuit and vegetables, and for fuel. 

Esenbaev warned that some businesses might engage in profiteering and thereby 
“create an artificial shortage on the food market”.

Few commentators have taken issue with the decision to devalue; their 
complaints relate to the way it was done. 

“In our view, devaluation should have been introduced gradually as it was in 
Russia,” Gulnara Rahmatullina, head of economic research at the Kazakstan 
Institute for Strategic Research, told IWPR. 

Rahmatullina said the tenge’s loss in value had had a major psychological 
impact, as people felt the tenge in their pay packets were worth less than 

Meruert Mahmudova from the Centre for Analysis of Public Policy Issues said the 
decision had been expected. 

“It was obvious that at a time when the Russian currency was falling, it was 
neither realistic nor beneficial to keep the dollar-tenge rate stable, as was 
done last year, since Russia is Kazakstan’s biggest trading partner. The fall 
in oil prices from 150 dollars to 35 dollars a barrel exhausted the 
possibilities for [creating currency reserves and] stabilising the tenge,” she 
said in an interview to the Kazakstan Today news agency on February 4. 

At the same time, she said, “Gradual devaluation would have been a more prudent 
decision in economic terms.”

Oraz Jandosov, a former NBK chairman turned opposition politician who heads the 
Centre for Economic Analysis, expressed a similar view. 

“The government did everything right, but too late; it should have started 
letting the tenge go three or four months ago when the [Russian] rouble was 
losing its value,” he told Russian Newsweek on February 10. “That would have 
saved us a quarter of our gold reserves.”

Even the governing Nur Otan party has voiced concern. Addressing a party 
meeting on February 6, deputy chairman Rauan Shaekin said devaluation should 
have taken place in December, and not in one fell swoop. He said its 
implementation and timing were “politically unwise” since it had effectively 
cancelled out increases in pay for public sector workers and in benefits for 
the less well-off.

Another area hit by devaluation is the value of loans, as political analyst 
Oleg Sidorov explained. “People who took out a mortgage five years ago were 
using 150 tenge to the dollar as their baseline,” he said.

Experts are divided on whether the move will, as it is supposed to, protect and 
encourage domestic producers both by making their exports cheaper and by 
curbing the flow of rival imported products. 

Rahmatullina is among the optimists on this front, saying, “Exporters sell 
their products for dollars and convert them into tenge inside the country. They 
earn large profits and pay [taxes] to the budget, creating greater 
opportunities to implement social programmes.”

Other analysts are less certain, arguing that the Kazak economy does not 
necessarily fit within this standard textbook model.

As Viktor Yambaev, head of the Association of Entrepreneurs in Almaty, told 
Kazakstan Today on February 4, “85 per cent of our economy depends on import, 
so there’s a simple chain reaction – given that the dollar’s value has risen 30 
per cent, everything is going to be 30 per cent more expensive.”

Kazakstan does not have a strong manufacturing base, and a wide range of items, 
both foodstuffs and manufactured goods, have to be imported.

As Mahmudova put it, “Devaluation serves only the interests of exporters who 
can recover earnings hit by falling prices on world markets. Other sectors of 
the economy depend on imports, and can only lose out.” 

Analysts were also sceptical about the government’s pledge to curb rising 

“Holding prices down is possible only in a command economy. In a market 
economy, it’s an impossible task,” said political analyst Asylbek Kojahmetov.

In a statement on February 9, three opposition parties said, “Hopes have not 
materialised that government agencies can prevent increases in price for 
consumer goods, above all foodstuffs, and also provide social assistance to 
those who need it.”

Raisa, 42, works as a market trader in Almaty, and told IWPR that devaluation 
has forced her and her colleagues to raise prices, as they buy their goods 
wholesale from China and Turkey.

“Municipal officials have already visited our market and sought to persuade 
traders not to increase prices,” she said, warning that anyone who followed 
that advice was likely to be ruined.

Andrei, who owns a small food store in Almaty, said he had not put up his 
prices yet, but that was only because he was still selling stock purchased at 
the old prices. “My suppliers have already warned me that the next consignment 
is going to be priced in line with the devaluation,” he said.

Pensioner Amanjol Karibaev was struggling to get by even before the 
devaluation, and fears that even if the government takes action, “all its 
measures will be designed to help big business, not ordinary people.”

Marik Koshabaev and Daulet Kanagatuly are IWPR-trained journalists in Almaty.


Authorities cave in to demands from teachers and politicians to put new 
examination system on hold.

By Olga Shevchenko in Almaty 

The Kazak government has postponed a new test which teachers were due to sit 
this year. The decision follows pressure from teachers and government ministers.

At a meeting with representatives of the Ministry of Education and Science on 
January 22, Prime Minister Karim Masimov instructed minister Janseit Tyimebaev 
to halt the computer-based testing process, which was already being rolled out.

A trial of the test was held on January 8 and 9, with an official exam to 
follow later in the year.

But the plans have now been shelved following a campaign by a group of teachers 
in southern Kazakstan, who sent a series of letters to the ministry asking it 
to delay the process.

The teachers complained that the new system had been introduced in haste, and 
demanded more time to prepare. 

After sitting the trial exam, they asked for improvements, complaining that 
some questions were unclear as a result of a poor translation from the original 
Russian into Kazak.

They also reported technical difficulties, such as having to wait in long 
queues to get into the test rooms, computers freezing during the test, and 
delays in the release of results. 

Following the teachers’ letters, a group of members of parliament backed their 
demands and requested the prime minister to look into the complaints. 

Since the early Nineties, Kazak teachers have been required to sit an exam 
every five years after attending special courses on their specialist subjects. 
If they do badly, this is reflected in their salary scale.

A different testing system was to be introduced this year after the education 
ministry introduced a new set of rules in April 2008.

Under the new scheme, the authorities were going to continue to peg salary 
rises to test results. However, the new test was to be computer- rather than 
paper-based, and include a broader range of questions. In addition, tougher 
penalties were to be imposed on those who performed badly.

According to the new procedures, the new test was designed to last 150 minutes 
and contain 100 questions, relating to the individual teacher’s specialist 
subject as well as Kazakstan law, psychology and teaching methods.

Those teachers who passed the test would then be given a performance appraisal. 

However, those who failed would have to wait six months to re-sit the test and 
would not be allowed to return to teaching until they passed.

At a parliamentary session on January 17, when the tests were debated for the 
second time, member of parliament Raisa Politschuk cited this controversial 
aspect of the new regulation. 

While the authorities have acceded to the demand to delay the new testing 
procedure, it is not clear whether they plan to revive the plan.

Teachers are concerned that if the education authorities decide to impose the 
system of harsh penalties at a later date, this could lead to an greater 
shortage of teachers.

Kazakstan’s state schools are short of staff, and many attribute the declining 
numbers to the low salaries paid to teachers. The Kazak Federation for 
Education and Science Trade Unions says the average teacher's salary is 27,000 
tenge (223 US dollars) a month. 

Russian language teacher Elena Morozova from Shymkent said that if the penalty 
system were to be imposed, she would not be able to afford to stay in the 

“If you answer [too many] questions wrong, you’ll be deprived of your teacher’s 
status and your salary will be cut,” she noted.

“Since a teacher’s salary is very low, I think it would be better to find 
another job, even one that doesn’t match my qualifications.”

Yet education ministry officials and others maintain that tests are an 
effective mechanism for evaluating teachers’ competence. 

Amirjan Kosanov, a political scientist and deputy chairman of the National 
Social Democratic Party of Kazakstan, said the tests would help weed out 
incompetent teachers.

However, he also acknowledged that imposing strict penalties on those who fail 
could drive teachers out the profession. To prevent this happening, he said, it 
was important to make teaching more attractive as a provision by improving 
working conditions.

Olga Shevchenko is an IWPR correspondent in Almaty.


Rights groups fear wider use of intercepts could erode civil liberties.

By Daulet Kanagatuly in Almaty 

Rights activists have expressed concern that legal amendments relaxing rules on 
the use of phone tapping and monitoring of private correspondence could be used 
to infringe people’s rights.

During a hearing on January 30, the lower house of the Kazak parliament 
approved changes to the law governing investigative operations, the criminal 
code and the criminal procedural code. 

The changes were proposed by law enforcement ministries, who say they will 
improve the efficiency of criminal investigations and will lead to more 

But human rights defenders are worried that the new legislation could be used 
to restrict civil liberties, and argue that the police are trying to compensate 
for their own inefficiency.

The amendments must now progress through the upper house or Senate before being 
submitted for President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s signature.

If passed, the changes would allow criminal investigators to use techniques 
such as phone tapping and monitoring of private correspondence to look into a 
wider range of crimes. 

This kind of surveillance is already legal for investigations into serious 
crimes including murder, terrorism, and certain kinds of corruption. 

But under the new legislation, they could also be invoked during investigations 
of a lesser crimes including inciting or funding terrorism, kidnapping, and 
human trafficking.

Other proposed changes relate to how evidence is held and how investigations 
are documented. 

According to Kazakstan’s deputy prosecutor general Johann Merkel, who presented 
the bill to the parliament, the criminal legislation is currently too liberal. 
After the end of the Soviet Union, he said, many serious crimes were 
reclassified into lesser categories.

This left law enforcement bodies including the security service, the 
conventional police and the financial police unable to use intercepts when 
investigating such crimes.

Merkel said the restrictions placed on investigators’ powers had led to crimes 
going unsolved. Only 60 per cent of all criminal cases go to court, he added.

“An analysis [of investigations] shows that one of the reasons for inefficient 
crime-solving is the legal prohibition on using ‘special operations’ techniques 
related to phone tapping,” said Merkel.

The draft amendments would allow intercepts to be used in cases involving an 
additional 34 types of crime. The deputy prosecutor said that every year, 
90,000 crimes falling into these categories are committed.

Human rights groups and other experts are against the amendments, arguing that 
society as a whole is being asked to pay for the police’s inefficiency by 
losing important civil rights.

“[Police want] to compensate for their lack of professionalism and make their 
work easier at our cost, at the cost of our rights,” said Ninel Fokina, 
director of the Almaty Helsinki Committee. “They’ve stated officially and 
openly that they find it difficult to solve crimes, so they want an opportunity 
[to use techniques] reserved for serious crimes in application to lesser ones.”

Fokina said the law enforcement agencies already had extensive powers as things 

A former police colonel who asked to remain anonymous agreed that law 
enforcement agencies themselves were to blame for the low crime-solving rate. 
He accused them of an “appalling lack of professionalism”, and said they were 
over-reliant on intercepts. 

He said he thought they were pushing through the legislation so that material 
they were already gathering through covert surveillance could be used as 

“I suspect that they’ve been illegally tapping the phones of suspects for a 
long time but are unable to use the material,” he said.

The former officer warned that if the amendments were approved, it could 
increase repression. 

“This is an ideal instrument [with which] to deal with dissent,” he said. “A 
phrase accidently dropped during a phone conversation or in a personal letter 
can grow into a thick crime file, from where it can be linked to [accusations 
of involvement] in underground organisations.”

Virtually anyone could become a suspect, he said, since people make throwaway 
comments in the heat of the moment, which could subsequently be used against 

Fokina said that because of the lack of transparency surrounding law 
enforcement in Kazakstan, it would be difficult to stop the new legislation 
being misused.

Others said that information gathered from bugging could be used not only to 
persecute dissidents, but also to extort money from businesses.

“The aim will be to find some well-to-do guy or a thriving company, collect 
enough compromising material from tapping to build up a thick criminal file, 
and then demand that they pay a certain amount of money for it to be closed,” 
said Almaty-based lawyer Sergei Utkin.

Utkin echoed the retired police colonel’s suspicions that the initiative was a 
way of legalising phone tapping that went on anyway.

“Law enforcement officers across all ministries understand that they are 
breaking the law [through illegal surveillance]. Of course they want to make it 
legal,” he said.

Meanwhile, interior ministry spokesman Bagdat Kojahmetov defended the 
amendments, saying there were strict safeguards in place to prevent them being 

He said that any application for the right to use surveillance had to be backed 
up by a proper justification, it had to relate to a criminal case, and it 
needed to be approved by a prosecutor.

Daulet Kanagatuly is an IWPR-trained journalist in Almaty.


Rights groups say negotiating with Russian far right will do nothing to stop 
racist attacks.

By Mirgul Akimova in Bishkek 

A Kyrgyz diplomat’s attempt to persuade Russian far-right nationalists to rein 
in racist violence against migrant workers has caused consternation at home.

Human rights activists warn that talking to neo-Nazis only lends them 
undeserved credibility and legitimacy.

Racist violence against migrant workers from Central Asia and the Caucasus are 
a major problem in Russia. The Moscow Bureau for Human Rights recorded 300 
xenophobic attacks in Russia last year, as result of which 122 people were 
killed and 380 wounded. 

The human rights group said there were tens of thousands of skinheads and 
radical nationalists who were prone to carrying out such attacks. 

In an effort to tackle the problem, Kyrgyzstan’s ambassador in Moscow, Raimkul 
Attokurov, took the unusual step of meeting far-right leader Dmitry Demushkin 
on January 19 this year.

Demushkin heads the Slavic Union, one of a number of Russian nationalist groups 
with neo-Nazi tendencies. The group’s Russian initials spell SS, its members 
give a Nazi-style salute and its emblem looks like a reworked swastika.

Explaining why he chose to meet Demushkin, the ambassador told the Kyrgyzstan 
newspaper Delo ?, “My mission as representative of Kyrgyzstan is to protect the 
interests of its people living in Russia, regardless of their social status, 
ethnicity or religion…. And I believe I must take any step, even an 
extraordinary one, to achieve this.” 

In the January 28 interview, Attokurov claimed his approach had been a success 
and that Demushkin had instructed Slavic Union branches all across Russia to 
treat people from Kyrgyzstan with “greater tolerance”.

It was not made clear how the average member of the group was going to 
distinguish Kyrgyz from other Central Asian nationals not covered by the new 

Members of the Kyrgyz diaspora in Russia were naturally sceptical about the 

“The ambassador told us about his initiative, and we had mixed feelings about 
it, ranging from shock to joy,” said Asylbek Egemberdiev, editor-in-chief at 
the KG-INFO.RU news portal, which provides information for Kyrgyzstan nationals 
in Russia. 

In the end, though, Egemberdiev believes the initiative paid off. 

“The ambassador managed to convince a man who heads a network of nationalist 
groups to be more tolerant towards the Kyrgyz,” he said. “The situation 
subsequently started gradually improving for the better.”

Juma Abdullayev, who heads the Zamandash Association which represents Kyrgyz 
migrants, also supported the ambassador’s initiative. 

“Many issues and problems get left to fester at an administrative level due to 
bureaucratic obstacles,” he said. “You need to meet people like Demushkin and 
explain things to them, and they will understand your point.”

Back in Kyrgyzstan, some human rights activists praised Attokurov for his 

“Yes, the ambassador took an unprecedented step, but you have to take such 
steps for the sake of your compatriots’ lives,” said prominent activist Natalia 
Ablova, who heads the Bureau for Human Rights and Legal Compliance. “The 
embassy’s purpose is to protect the rights of Kyrgyz citizens, and by doing 
this, the embassy is indeed performing this function.”

However, many others were taken aback.

On January 30, the Moscow-based Memorial group urged official and 
non-government institutions not to enter into contact with far-right groups, as 
this might contribute to greater legitimacy for them.

“We strongly condemn such attempts to make advances to the neo-Nazis. We firmly 
believe that neither the authorities nor public associations – even those of a 
nationalist bent – should collaborate with those who not only propagate racism 
but also regard violence as a valid form of political action,” said the 

“The fact that it was the Kyrgyz ambassador to Russia, not an ordinary diplomat 
who was involved in the meeting with Demushkin is shocking.”

Kyrgyzstan’s human rights ombudsman Tursunbek Akun agreed, saying Attokurov had 
taken “a dangerous step”.

“If an official holds talks with the neo-Nazis, he recognises their legitimacy, 
and this is fundamentally wrong,” said Akun. 

He said Russian police had an obligation to prevent Kyrgyz nationals being 
subjected to attack, and it was not for the ambassador to try to arrange a deal 
with possible perpetrators.

“The problem… needs to be resolved at government level, and a meeting between 
the Kyrgyz ambassador and a neo-Nazi leader is not going to solve it,” he added.

Daniil Kislov, a Moscow-based commentator on Central Asian affairs, questioned 
the point of holding talks with a man who did not control all of Russia’s 
various nationalist groups and had no ability to influence the nationalist 
sentiments commonly held in the wider Russian society. 

“We need to remember that Demushkin is not the leader of all skinheads,” said 
Kislov. “It would be far more effective to build up an absolute intolerance of 
fascists and murderers through public awareness campaigns.” 

Mirgul Akimova is a pseudonym of an independent journalist in Bishkek.



People in outlying areas come up with ingenious if dangerous solutions to 
energy shortages. 

By Janar Akayev, Jannat Toktosunova, Jenish Aydarov, Kumondor Usupov, Zumrad 
Narzullaeva and Sanjar Eraliyev in Kyrgyzstan 

As Kyrgyzstan endures serial power cuts for a second winter in a row, residents 
of outlying towns have suffered worse than most. 

When Soviet-era central heating systems fail and the electricity goes off, 
people often turn to makeshift coal- or wood-burning stoves. But they run a 
high risk of burning their homes down or poisoning themselves with the toxic 

In recent months the capital Bishkek has experienced blackouts, but these have 
been shared out on a district-by-district basis. The schedule of blackouts has 
been in place since last August in an effort to store water in the Toktogul 
reservoir, which feeds the country’s main hydroelectric facility. 

Rural areas have suffered more prolonged outages of up to 12 hours a day, yet 
there at least people have the option of gathering firewood, coal and the 
traditional dried animal dung to burn in their private houses. 

Those in between – people who live in apartments in towns away from the capital 
– are least able to cope, since their housing blocks were designed to run on 
inbuilt centralised heating and electricity networks and they have few other 
options when the system grinds to a halt. 

The town of Naryn, located in the mountains of eastern Kyrgyzstan, has very 
cold winters with average temperatures of minus 18 degrees Celsius this winter. 
Local electricity provider VostokElektro says the power was turned off for 
two-hour stretches twice a day from December to January 17, when the blackouts 
stopped. Over in the west, in the town of Talas, power company Severelektro 
reports that power cuts in January lasted four hours a day, an improvement on 
the previous month when there were blackouts of ten hours a day 

As weather conditions ease after temperatures that dropped into the minus 
twenties, IWPR reporters interviewed urban residents in various parts of the 
country to see how they made it through the worst of the winter. 


Although in theory, blocks of flats are heated by a Soviet-era network of hot 
water piped in from municipal heating plants, the system fell into disuse long 
ago in most places. Residents of many multistorey blocks in the smaller towns 
cut their heating systems off from the centralised network of heating pipes 
because they did not want to pay for a service that was at best lukewarm.

Instead, they turned to electric heaters, which cost them less in bills. 
However, power outages now rule this method out for many hours of the day. 

The head of Jalalabad’s municipal heating company, Tynybek Kozubayev, says the 
firm now supplies hot water to only 16 of the multistorey residential blocks in 
this southern town; the residents of the other 20 have cut the pipes connecting 
them to the system. 

“We can now do nothing to help them,” he said. “If we decide to provide heating 
to their blocks, which are disconnected from the central system, what will 
happen is that the buildings will be flooded with hot water.” 

In neighbouring Osh, managers at the local power station which also provides 
the city with hot water insist there have been no problems and that people 
installed stoves in their flats only because they wanted an additional heating 

However, Osh resident Asilbek Seitov is among those who no longer use the 
central heating system.

“I decided to cut our block’s heating system off from the central one many 
years ago because we were getting no heating at all. I spent 9,500 soms [about 
250 US dollars] on a Chinese gas stove; that’s twice my monthly wage,” he said. 

In Talas in western Kyrgyzstan, only nine of the 53 apartment blocks have been 
disconnected. But as the head of heating firm TeploKommunEnergo, Nikolai 
Triboy, explained, those homes that still use the system have suffered 
intermittent breakdowns in their hot water supply over the winter. 

The firm operates four boiler-houses, three fired by coal and one – by far the 
largest – burning fuel oil. 

“We had to stop the boiler-houses because of electricity cuts; our water 
heaters weren’t working and the fuel oil froze. The water heaters subsequently 
broke down again and some of the pipes burst. We spent the whole of December 
repairing the system and we were unable to provide the apartment blocks with 
heating,” said Triboy. 

As for the nine disconnected blocks, he said, “They want to get their blocks 
reconnected but it will be difficult and very expensive. We will need 100,000 
soms [2,500 US dollars] to connect one block to the heating system.” 

In Batken in the southwest, meanwhile, the heating system that supplied the 
town’s 25 apartment blocks disintegrated years ago when the company closed 


Other people have been doubly hit because of the shortage of natural gas, which 
means they cannot cook. Kyrgyzstan imports all its natural gas from Uzbekistan, 
but has halved the amount of gas it is buying this year because its neighbour 
has raised prices so high.

When the heating system is out and both electricity and gas supplies are at 
best intermittent, the commonest solution is to install a “burjuika”, a 
cast-iron stove that burns coal or wood. These were last in widespread use in 
the 1920s, before the Soviets installed communal heating. The stoves are best 
suited to one-storey detached houses, but are now a feature of many high-rise 
apartments, their home-made metal chimneys poking out of the window.

Temperatures in Osh are somewhat warmer than in northern parts of Kyrgyzstan, 
but apartments are still chilly when there is no heating or electricity. 

“I’ve had to use a stove, and now I cannot imagine life without it in this 
cold,” said Kalyk Bargybayev who lives in a multi-storey block in Osh. “I use 
it to cook food, and my children sit around it when they’re cold.” 

Parakhat Suyunova from Batken, also in southern Kyrgyzstan, recalled how she 
put an old pair of boots into her stove one day when she ran out of coal. The 
resulting fumes stained the upstairs flat’s washing a sooty black.


The stoves are both dirty and dangerous. According to Muhiddin Mamasadikov, the 
deputy mayor of Osh, burjuikas are technically illegal, but people end up using 
them as they are better than nothing. 

Osh’s deputy fire chief, Gulamiddin Bazarbaev, says seven out of ten fires 
happen in high-rise blocks, and last year 70 were attributed to burjuikas and 
other stoves. 

“Many people are now using gas stoves imported from Iran,” he added. “However, 
if you want to install one, you need to call in a technician, as any mistake 
with the installation can cause a major explosion.” 

At Osh’s main hospital, Mirlan Narmatov, the head of the burns unit, said most 
of the patients brought in during the cold spell were children. 

“To keep their children warm, parents use electric heaters and paraffin lamps, 
which often cause fires and lead to severe burns,” he said. “With the onset of 
the cold weather, little children make up the majority of our patients. 

“For example, right now we have a ten-month-old baby in a very poor state. 
Because the room was cold, his parents put an electric heater close to his 
beshik [traditional wooden cradle], which caught fire. We had another case 
where the parents placed a paraffin lamp too close to their baby’s cradle when 
the electricity was switched off. The cradle caught fire and the baby died of 

The metal tubing rigged up as chimneys for burjuikas are prone to leaks, and 
carbon monoxide poisoning is on the increase. Last month, Dmitry Denisov, 
deputy head of accident and emergency services in Bishkek, told the 24.kg news 
agency that 72 people in Kyrgyzstan suffered carbon monoxide poisoning in the 
last three months of 2008, compared with 29 in the same period the previous 

Tezekbay Baysheriev, a Second World War veteran from Naryn, admits that the 
people living above him complain about the smoke from his stove, but he says he 
has no other option if he is to heat his flat.


Other apartment block residents have resorted to even more unusual methods for 
creating warmth – some heat up bricks and place them under tables or beds, 
while others make “radiators” by filling containers such as vacuum flasks with 
boiling water. Some have resorted to cooking on fires outside in the communal 

In Talas, the majority of residents have electric water heaters which they use 
whenever the power is on. Local man Kanybek Balybaev explained how he connected 
his heater up to the wall radiators that belonged to the now-defunct central 
heating system. 

In the northeastern town of Karakol, the administrative centre for Issyk Kul 
region, the electricity was off for ten hours a day, although things improved 
in January. 

Local pensioner Mahbuba Ismailova does her best to warm herself with a 
poorly-insulated heater, but whenever a power cut begins, she wraps herself in 
a blanket and goes to bed. 

Asel Sagymbaeva, a mother of three from Talas, dresses her children in warm 
clothes and wraps them in blankets when the electricity goes off. 

Her family is fortunate to still be connected to the centralised heating 
system, but it only works when there is electricity to run the pumps. 

“Because of the power outages, the hot water stops circulating in the pipes and 
we don’t have any heating,” she said. “Our children have gone down with colds 
and flu. My eldest son, who is just seven, caught a severe cold and was off 
school for a month.” 

Sagymbaeva’s family does not have a burjuika but uses a range of heat sources, 
depending on which one is available at any given time. When the power is on, 
she cooks on an electric stove. She also has a gas stove but rarely uses it as 
gas canisters are expensive, at about 12 dollars a time. To get hot water for 
washing and doing the laundry, she siphons water out of the central heating 

The family even tried using an oil-fueled generator, but stopped because it was 
filling the apartment with fumes and making the children drowsy. 

When children go to school, temparatures are often no higher than at home, as 
public institutions are afflicted by the same problems with electricity, gas 
and central heating. 

“Many schoolchildren at school have bad colds that they’ve caught as a result 
of the frequent power outages,” said Batken teacher Bunissa Imatova. “One day 
it was so cold in my classroom that a little boy wet himself. Adults can stand 
the cold, but it’s very difficult for little children when they have to sit 
still for 45 minutes.” 

Janar Akayev, Jannat Toktosunova, Jenish Aidarov, and Kumondor Usupov are 
freelance reporters working for RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service. Zumrad Narzullaeva and 
Sanjar Eraliyev are IWPR-trained journalists.

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