budget forecast yet again, experts warn that the poor are not sufficiently 
cushioned against downturn.  By Elmira Gabidullina in Almaty (RCA, No.572, 

FEARS OF CURRENCY CONTROLS IN KAZAKSTAN  Experts warn that imposing too many 
restrictions will simply create a black market in foreign currencies.  By 
Georgy Kovalev and Galiaskar Utegulov in Almaty (RCA No. 572, 03-Mar-09)

PUBLIC OUTCRY DELAYS KYRGYZ TAX CHANGES  Government forced to review large 
sections of new tax legislation.  Asyl Osmonalieva in Bishkek (RCA No. 572, 


Kyrgyz a short stretch of road places spotlight on broader questions of land 
and borders in Fergana Valley.  By Jenish Aydarov in Batken and Aslibegim 
Manzarshoeva in Dushanbe. (RCA No. 572, 07-Apr-09)

officials insist crackdown on Hizb ut-Tahrir is working, but rights groups say 
copying Uzbekistan is no answer.  By Venera Sultanova in Nookat and Dilbar 
Ruzadorova in Bishkek (RCA No. 572, 03-Apr-09)

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As government downscales its budget forecast yet again, experts warn that the 
poor are not sufficiently cushioned against downturn. 

By Elmira Gabidullina in Almaty 

The latest set of changes to the Kazak government’s budget contain the most 
pessimistic predictions yet about the state of the economy in 2009, although 
officials insist their austerity measures do not include cuts to essential 

Critics of the plan, meanwhile, say maintaining current levels of benefits is 
meaningless as inflation will render them worthless, and some argue that the 
government should be cutting back to a level that is sustainable. 

The upper house of the Kazak parliament, the Senate, approved the budget on 
April 8, two weeks after the lower house reviewed it it. 

In a sign of how swiftly expectations have been curtailed, this latest budget 
represents a substantial revision of a document approved only in December, 
which was itself a more pessimistic version of the government’s original 
spending plan for 2007. 

In drawing up the budget, the government based its figures on the expectation 
of low growth. In the December version of the budget, the authorities were 
anticipating a 2.7 per cent year-on-year rise in gross domestic product, GDP, 
but now it is expected to rise by a mere one per cent, when inflation is taken 
into account. That would be a poor showing for an economy that until the start 
of last year was expanding by eight or nine per cent annually. 

Presenting the new figures to the cabinet on March 4, the Minister for Economy 
and Budge Planning, Bahyt Sultanov said they had been shaped by the continued 
global slowdown, cheerless commodity price forecasts and the experience of last 
year, when Kazakstan first began feeling the effects of crisis.

The rate of economic growth and the scale of export revenues have both been 
reined in by falling world demand – and prices – for oil and metals. The budget 
is calculated on an oil price of 40 US dollars a barrel – last summer saw a 
peak of nearly 150 a barrel.

Another factor in the low growth prediction is the end of the construction boom 
of recent years, as bank loans against new buildings dry up. Meanwhile, the 
inflation rate is predicted to hit 11 per cent year on year, partly as a result 
of the recent devaluation of the tenge which has bumped up the prices of 
imported goods on the local market.

In the new budget, the net balance of spending and revenue is actually little 
changed from December, and will result in a modest deficit of 2.8 billion 
dollars, equivalent to under four per cent of GDP. 

But looking at the raw figures underneath that, there have been seismic shifts. 
The government is now expecting to receive 20 per cent less in taxes and other 
revenues than it was anticipating only four months ago.

However, instead of cutting back on expenditure plans, the government has 
increased them. Sultanov noted that some of this extra money was designed to 
mitigate the effects of economic crisis – job creation and retraining 
programmes, and grants for highflying university students who cannot afford the 

Boosting spending while revenues fall would ordinarily have created a yawning 
deficit. However, the government says it has found the bulk of this money by 
applying two basic mechanisms. First, it is drawing about 2.3 dollars out of 
its national oil fund, where a proportion of revenues have been stored up 
against a rainy day over the years. Second, it is saving somewhat less than 
that amount by shaving costs off a number of expenditure items – freezing new 
projects, reducing funding for state organisations, for example by postponing 
repairs and acquisitions.

At the same time, Sultanov insisted there would be no cuts to the money set 
aside for public sector wages, pensions and benefits.

At the cabinet meeting where the plan was laid out, Prime Minister Karim 
Masimov said, “At the moment we need to live according to our means. If we 
start planning to spend money that we don’t have, we will end up somewhere else 
entirely. So although this is painful, we have to do it.” 

Few economists were surprised by these austerity measures, although not all 
would say they go far enough.

“It’s an appropriate realistic move given the crisis in the world economy and 
in Kazakstan,” said economic expert Magbat Spanov. “There was talk of it even 
when they approved the 2009 budget [in December], with the stress on tightening 
belts and leaving only the indispensible expenditure on social requirements.”

Others argue that pledges not to cut social spending are not enough given that 
the value of wages and benefits is low already, and likely to be eroded further 
by inflation.

Irina Savostina, who heads a pensioner’s movement called Pokolenie, said the 
economic crisis had already hit vulnerable groups including the retired. 

“The minimum pension currently stands at 9,800 tenge, or just over 65 dollars, 
which is less than the minimum subsistence wage. It’s impossible to live on 
that,” she said. “Just since the beginning of the year, inflation… has eaten up 
the miserable pension increase that was announced so loudly at end of last 

A staff member at the Almaty Centre for Employment, dismissed official pledges 
of support for welfare as purely “decorative”. 

“The ranks of the unemployed are growing, and the pitiful amount they get in 
benefits is not going to help them,” he said.

A teacher from Almaty who gave her name as Alfia pointed out that public sector 
wages were often held up. She and her colleagues have only just received their 
January pay. 

“It included a small increase but by the time we got the money, price rises 
made it effectively meaningless.”

Petr Svoik, an economist who is deputy leader of the opposition party Azat, 
believes that despite the revisions, the budget still reflects unrealistic 
hopes. He says the government needs to work from the premise that metals and 
oil prices are not going to rise any time soon, and also that it should avoid 
financing its spending from unsustainable sources.

“The budget should be calculated based on real revenues,” he said. “The deficit 
is now being made up for with money from the National [oil] Fund and from the 
pension funds. That money will be exhausted, and in future they will be forced 
to cut social spending, which will of course be a severe blow for Kazakstan’s 

Some economists say that despite efforts to cut spending wherever possible, 
there is still some slack. 

Gulnur Rahmatullina, head of economic research at the Institute of Strategic 
Studies, which is linked to the Kazak president’s office, questions a decision 
to transfer of a number of events at the 2011 Asian Winter Olympics from 
Kazakstan’s biggest city, Almaty, to the capital Astana. She notes that the 
games already account for a substantial proportion of this year’s spending 
plans, and says that shifting events at a time like this is “baffling” – 
especially since money has already been spent on some of the sports facilities 
in Almaty.

More broadly, Rahmatullina is perturbed at the fact that this is the third time 
the government has rewritten its budget in a short space of time. That suggests 
to her that realistic figures are not being used for the calculations. 

Svoik suggested that further revisions might follow as it becomes apparent that 
low commodity prices are here to stay. 

Spanov, meanwhile, argued that poorer people in Kazakstan were likely to suffer 
this year, however much the government promised to sustain spending.

“It would be silly to assert that social programmes aren’t going to be 
affected. There is only the one budget, and it is not elastic,” he said. “There 
are expenditure items the government will never touch - funding for domestic 
and external security, plus money for the institutions of state. Therefore, 
other subsidised areas like schools and hospitals will experience interruptions 
in the flow of funding.”

He concluded, “I think the measures now being undertaken by the government are 
aimed at survival. In other words they aren’t really thinking about how to fix 
the situation, just how to keep things afloat.”

Elmira Gabidullina is an IWPR contributor in Almaty.


Experts warn that imposing too many restrictions will simply create a black 
market in foreign currencies.

By Georgy Kovalev and Galiaskar Utegulov in Almaty 

As the authorities in Kazakstan plan tighter controls over foreign currency 
transactions, some economists are warning of the emergence of a new black 

The Kazak parliament is currently debating two pieces of legislation relating 
to monetary controls, one a package of legal amendments giving the authorities 
the right to strip any of the country’s 2,500 privately-run currency exchange 
shops of its license to operate, and the other a bill designed to curb 

The amendments also contain provisions that would allow the Kazakstan president 
– in an emergency – to force companies to sell foreign currency export earnings 
on the domestic market, to ban transfers of foreign currency abroad by 
individuals, and also by businesses which do not indicate who the recipient is. 

Some economists are now warning that in the present financial crisis, the 
measures the government is proposing will tend to shift transactions into the 
parallel economy as people try to avoid onerous restrictions. 

Tulegen Askarov, economic commentator for the weekly Respublica, says a black 
market in foreign currency is inevitable, and the state itself will be the 
biggest loser. 


The provision on currency-exchange offices appears to be a watered-down version 
of a proposal which the chairman of the National Bank of Kazakstan, Grigory 
Marchenko, made on March 1, calling for all privately-run money exchanges to 
close so that banks would have exclusive rights to exchange tenge for foreign 

In a television interview, Marchenko accused private traders of spreading false 
rumours following the February 4 devaluation of the tenge. (See Kazakstan 
Struggles With Devaluation Impact, RCA No. 566, 13-Feb-09.) 

Because the move depressed demand for foreign currency by making it more 
expensive, Marchenko said, the traders put it about that the central bank was 
planning a further devaluation, in the hope that this would encourage people to 
come back to them and buy dollars before the tenge lost more value. 

Marchenko concluded that the currency market would be more predictable if it 
was controlled by the banks. 

His statement provoked an outcry from the business sector. The Independent 
Association of Entrepreneurs urged President Nursultan Nazarbaev to protect the 
interests of the business community. 

“No factual evidence was provided to show that exchange offices violated 
currency exchange legislation,” said the association’s letter to the president. 

The association’s head, Talgat Akuov, told a press conference that Marchenko’s 
proposal would undermine Kazakstan’s image as a business-friendly environment, 
and could create a situation like that in neighbouring Uzbekistan, where tight 
state controls over currency transactions have fostered a lively black market. 

Because the contents of the bill were not made public before it went before 
parliament, many people assumed – wrongly – that Marchenko’s plan to abolish 
exchange kiosks had been introduced wholesale into the planned legislation, 
leading to heated discussions and a protest campaign. 

However, in its present form the draft law merely gives the authorities the 
right to revoke exchange offices’ operating licenses if they see fit. 

In any case, the central banker seems to have softened his own position. 
Speaking at a press conference on March 10, Marchenko said the central bank was 
looking at ways of regulating exchange activities without resorting to “radical 
measures”, for example by requiring them to sell only foreign currency that 
they have bought from customers, rather than from the banks. 

Oraz Jandosov, a former central bank chairman who heads the Centre for Economic 
Analysis, warns that cutting the private traders out of the market would make 
the market less competitive and allow the banks to increase the margin between 
their buying and selling rates, to the detriment of the consumer. 

That would create space for black-market traders to step in and offer keener 
exchange rates, he says. 

Economist Rahat Alshanov agrees that prohibition almost always leads to the 
creation of a black market. Although he agrees with Marchenko that private 
dealers engage in speculative trading, the answer lies in clear guideless 
imposed by the financial authorities 


The second bill bears the self-explanatory title “Preventing the Legalisation 
(Laundering) of Illegally-Acquired Income and the Funding of Terrorism”. 

Finance Minister Bolat Jamishev said the bill was essential as Kazakstan wanted 
to become part of the Egmont Group, an international body that coordinates the 
activities of financial intelligence units which monitor money laundering and 
other illegal activities in just over 100 countries. 

The criticism levelled at the bill is that it sets a low threshold of 2,500 US 
dollars, above which any commercial transaction in a foreign currency must be 
reported to a new financial watchdog which will carry out checks to prevent 
laundering or the funding of terror groups. Lawyers, banks and notaries are all 
under an obligation to report any transactions of this kind that come across 
their desks. 

Askarov says the bill will set Kazakstan back by 15 years. 

“It would be understandable if the monitoring was to apply to transactions of 
upwards of 100,000 dollars, or deals involving property and major assets,” he 
said. The bureaucratic machine simply won’t be able to cope. In addition, many 
deals will be done illegally, reducing the volume of transactions going through 
the banks and clearly affecting their balance-books.” 

Jandosov says the 2,500-dollar limit is far too low to be practicable, and the 
job of tracking all transactions of this kind will place an extra burden on the 

Alshanov believes migrant workers from other Central Asian states living in 
Kazakstan and sending home money to their families account for a large 
proportion of transfers of such modest sums. 

He believes people will evade the complex rules by resorting to informal money 
transfer schemes. This new area of the grey economy will, he believes, be run 
by criminals. 

“Organised crime has interests wherever shadow-economy business exists,” he 

Despite such criticisms, the economists interviewed for this report said it was 
understandable why the authorities wanted to impose tighter regulation. 

In contrast to some commentators, Aytolkyn Kurmanova, acting director of the 
Institute for Economic Strategies in Central Asia, wholeheartedly supports the 
idea of tightening up on foreign currency transactions, and says the main aim 
is to stop capital flight – the flow of funds out of Kazakstan. “We have had an 
open foreign currency market, and many companies have used it to conduct 
offshore operations,” she said in an interview with the weekly magazine Expert 
Kazakstan on March 25. 

Georgy Kovalev is an independent journalist in Almaty. Galiaskar Utegulov is a 
pseudonym for a journalist in Kazakstan. Additional reporting was done by 
Mirgul Akimova, a journalist in Bishkek working under a pseudonym. 


Government forced to review large sections of new tax legislation.

Asyl Osmonalieva in Bishkek 

Following a vocal campaign against changes to the tax rules, the Kyrgyz 
government has been forced to backtrack on several legal provisions.

The government approved a new tax code in October and it officially came into 
effect in January. 

Tax service officials said the idea was not just to increase net revenues, but 
to streamline the range of taxes in operation, make collection more efficient, 
and also encourage business development. They noted that the number of taxes 
had been cut from 16 to eight, that three types of sales tax had been replaced 
by one, and that value-added-tax had been reduced from a rate of 20 to 12 per 

However, from January 1, when the code became effective, the Kyrgyz president 
and government were inundated with letters and petitions from the business 
community and non-government organisations calling for a review of parts of the 

Facing this kind of pressure, Prime Minister Igor Chudinov ordered a special 
commission to look into the tax code to see what needed to be changed.

The commission was set up at the end of January and its still working, with no 
clear end date in sight.

But the government already appears to have conceded several major points, 
including the right of small businesses to joint a fast-track taxation scheme. 

One of the changes introduced in January reduced from 122 to 71 the list of 
business categories allowed to buy a certificate as proof of tax payment, 
rather than filing a full tax return. For those businesses still eligible, the 
fee for the certificate was raised several times over. Under a system launched 
in 1996, a range of companies could apply for a certificate or license, known 
as a “patent”, as proof that they had paid their taxes. 

Tax officials justified the change by saying the licensing system had been 
abused by tax dodgers, but businesses questioned why a more bureaucratic system 
was being imposed on them just at a time when the economy was suffering the 
effects of the international financial crisis. They warned that it could 
bankrupt some firms and drive others into the black economy where they would 
pay no taxes at all.

On March 4, the government’s press service reported that the decision had been 
reversed and 124 types of business would be now allowed to take out tax 
“patents”. The fees for some types of business had already been reduced in 

President Kurmanbek Bakiev has proposed a variable-rate license, payable on an 
annual basis and with its price depending on how the business concerned has 
performed over the previous year.

Raisa Sidorenko, a member of parliament from the governing party Ak Jol, was 
against the restrictions that have now been lifted, but argues that the fees 
need to be set at a realistic level so that businesses do not end up 
underpaying on tax.

“At the end of the day, we need to think about how the budget is funded,” she 
said. “That’s where the pensions, child benefits, and salaries for teachers and 
doctors come from.” 

Another contested area where the authorities have taken a step backwards is 
property tax, which the new code introduced for the owners of homes and other 
kinds of real estate. 

Apart from objections in principle, one of the problems was that there was 
little information about the property tax, so people were left struggling to 
understand who would have to pay, and how much. 

“No one can figure it out,” complained Jumabek Saltiev, who chairs the housing 
committee in Bishkek’s Sverdlovsk district. “Tax officials talk about one way 
of calculating it when they’re on TV, but when you go and see tax service 
staff, they say something different.”

Nikolai Bailo, a member of parliament representing the Communist Party, says 
the property tax was conceived as a tax on wealth, which he says is a good 
thing as long as it draws the right distinctions. 

“If a family received its two-bedroom apartment during Soviet times and they 
have a lot of children, they should not be charged,” he argued. “But if it s a 
young couple who have received a flat as a gift from their parents, then that’s 
a different matter.”

Sidorenko said she feared the property tax was so indiscriminate that it would 
hit farmers, in particular, since they tend to own several buildings. 

“Property tax will have a negative impact on agricultural development,” she 
said. “The tax will apply to storage facilities, workshops, and [stationary] 
farm machinery, so it will hit everyone who works in the agrarian sector.”

A number of charities sent an open letter to President Bakiev asking to be 
exempted from property tax, otherwise they would not be able to operate.

President Bakiev has ordered a moratorium on this tax lasting until next year, 
while further discussions take place. 

Although sales taxes have been reduced from three to one, objections to that 
were voiced as well, mainly on the grounds that transactions were already 
subject to VAT. The Kyrgyz president has asked the government to take another 
look at this issue, too.

Encouraged by these concessions and by the government’s willingness to talk, 
some in the business community are lobbying for the entire tax code to be put 
on ice until next year. 

“All companies and enterprises are now feeling the impact of the global crisis 
to varying degrees, and they need to be supported,” said Bakay Junushev, 
director of iCAP Investment, a local consultancy firm. “Taking a step towards 
the business sector [by freezing implementation of the law] will demonstrate 
that the government has the resolve and ability to develop the country’ 

Aydar Mambetov, head of the Association of Civil Society Support Centres, says 
all this trouble could have been avoided if the authorities had sought the 
views of the public consultation in the first place. 

“If the law had been passed only after recommendations made during public 
hearings had been taken into account, there would have been no need to revise 
it now,” he said.

Despite the negative response, the tax authorities continue to exist that the 
new legislation is an improvement. It is, they say, based on fairness, 
transparency and the presumption of honesty, and it seeks to reduce the overall 
tax burden. 

In a statement the tax service said, “It must be understood that any innovation 
takes time. Yet implementing the new tax code is an imperative.”

Asyl Osmonalieva is an IWPR-trained contributor in Bishkek.



Debate over Tajiks giving Kyrgyz a short stretch of road places spotlight on 
broader questions of land and borders in Fergana Valley.

By Jenish Aydarov in Batken and Aslibegim Manzarshoeva in Dushanbe. 

The debate generated by Kyrgyzstan’s acquisition of a small strip of land from 
Tajikistan highlights the sensitivities that still surround border issues in 
the ethnic and territorial patchwork of the Fergana Valley.

At a March 3 meeting, the secretary of Kyrgyzstan’s Security Council, Adakhan 
Madumarov, and his Tajik counterpart Amirkul Azimov agreed that a 275-metre 
long strip of Tajik territory should be handed over to fill a missing link in a 
highway through the southern Kyrgyz province of Batken. 

This part of Kyrgyzstan is dotted with enclaves – areas of land that belong to 
neighbouring states Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. 

Until work on a new bypass began last year, travellers on the main highway 
through Batken had no choice but to go through Chorku, a pocket of Tajik 
territory inside Kyrgyzstan. That meant entering another country, for which 
they had to go through border controls. 

The geography of the 24-kilometre bypass meant it would still have to briefly 
traverse Tajik territory, so work on it had to halt. The deal agreed by 
Madumarov and Azimov has now resolved that issue, to the obvious satisfaction 
of both governments.

“The Tajiks have leased us the piece of land for 49 years at a purely symbolic 
price. That will allow us to resume construction of the [bypass] road,” said 
Madumarov, indicating that the rent was likely to be set at one US dollar.

“Now we will have a good road and most importantly, an uninterrupted one. This 
suits us and the Tajiks, too, as they will use the road as well,” said Akjol 
Madaliev, deputy governor of Batken region.

The deputy secretary of Tajikistan’s Security Council, Akram Amonov, agreed 
that better road communications would be good for his own country, too. “This 
is a strategic road linking us with Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan, and 
we plan to share in its use,” he said.


Although officials view the deal as a win-win situation, local residents are 
less happy about it, particularly those on the Kyrgyz side, who argue that the 
land concerned belonged to them in the first place, and that their government 
should therefore not have acknowledged Tajik sovereignty by agreeing to lease 

More broadly, some analysts say the deal sets a bad precedent for future 
negotiations on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, sections of which remain unmarked and 
sometimes disputed, since the process of demarcating national territories on 
the ground has not been completed. By assuming that ownership of the strip is 
undisputed, both governments have pre-empted any future talks on the issue.

“It wasn’t right for Kyrgyzstan to agree to rent land that is disputed, said 
Karamat Orozova, a member of Batken district council. “This acknowledges in 
advance that the area belongs to the Tajiks, even though the border line has 
not yet been established.”

Joldosh Satybaldiev, who is Batken region’s official representative in northern 
Tajikistan, said, “It’s clear the authorities haven’t done their job properly. 
The area on which we’ve taken out a lease is Kyrgyz land, and the people who 
used to work on it are still alive.”

Maksat Taabaldiev, from the Kyrgyz village of Aktatyr next door to Chorku, 
believes land ownership is a matter of principle that overrides short-term 
issues like routing the bypass. 

“The road construction could have been halted. We would have managed somehow, 
without giving away the land,” he said.

In Chorku itself, a woman who withheld her name indicated that the suspicion 
was mutual. 

“The local Tajiks do not approve leasing the plot to the Kyrgyz. They think 
that once they’ve built their road, the Kyrgyz won’t negotiate on other 
issues,” she said.

A political analyst in Tajikistan, Kosim Bekmuhamedov, voiced another concern, 
saying, “If the Kyrgyz have leased it for 49 years, they will obviously build 
houses there. What will happen to them 49 years down the line?”

A Tajik government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, insisted the 
land belonged to his country, but agreed with the official Kyrgyz position that 
the matter had been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

“The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development allocated funding to 
Kyrgyzstan to build the road. But the Kyrgyz included the 275 metre stretch in 
the project without first consulting the Tajiks. This area belongs to 
Tajikistan,” he said. 

He added, “We have not sacrificed anything in deciding to lease it to the 
Kyrgyz, since we are historically neighbours, we are related peoples and 
moreover, once it is finished, the road can be used by both Tajiks and Kyrgyz.” 


The Batken region is part of the Fergana Valley, and borders on both the other 
states that share this geographical region – Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Batken 
juts out from southwestern Kyrgyzstan and is sandwiched between Uzbekistan to 
the north and Tajikistan to the south. 

There are several enclaves in Batken – Chorku and the nearby Vorukh, also 
belonging to Tajikistan; and the Uzbek territories of Shahimardan and Sokh. 
Chorku consists of 130 square km with a population of 20,000, 95 per cent of 
them ethnic Tajiks. 

These enclaves were created in the early years of Soviet rule in Central Asia, 
as the Communist authorities mapped out the contours of five new republics. 
Some analysts say the region was carved up as part of a divide-and-rule, but it 
could also be argued that if the policy was to create nation states in form if 
not in substance, ethnic communities found in pockets outside their titular 
republics were incorporated into them administratively. 

In any case, as long as everyone was living in the same country, the Soviet 
Union, internal borders meant little and did not impede life at village level 
in places like Batken. But that began changing in the 1990s, as the newly 
independent states began patrolling their frontiers and negotiating their 
sovereignty over patches of land whose use had previously been determined more 
by custom and practice than any official map.

For some years after independence, controls remained lax enough for people to 
keep on ignoring what they regarded as merely administrative divisions. They 
continued to use farmlands, animal pastures, and water resources as they had 
always done, no matter which side of the border it lay.

Armed raids conducted by the militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, in 
1999 and 2000 sharply intensified the trend towards clearly delineated and 
heavily guarded state boundaries. The IMU guerrillas operated out of 
Tajikistan, but launched many of their incursions from Batken, prompting all 
three governments to focus on security in this part of the Fergana valley.

One of the changes that followed was the creation of Tajik and Kyrgyz border 
checkpoints around the Chorku and Vorukh enclaves from 2002 onwards. That meant 
someone driving through Batken, with no alternative to going via Chorku, had to 
formally enter and then exit Tajikistan before continuing their journey through 
Kyrgyz territory. 

Residents of Leilek district, in the far west of Batken, were effectively cut 
off from the rest of country unless they were prepared to cross Chorku and 
other enclaves.

Add to this some 70 pieces of land where sovereignty is uncertain, and it 
becomes clear why Batken is one of the few remaining parts of Central Asia 
where the Kyrgyz and Tajik governments have yet to demarcate their territories.

Despite these unresolved issues and occasional tensions at a local level, 
relations between Bishkek and Dushanbe have generally been good over the years. 

Any disputes tend to focus on local questions of land and water use. In March 
last year, around 150 Tajiks crossed into Kyrgyz territory and attempted to 
destroy a dam that had reduced the amount of irrigation water they were 

Some friction is also caused by the perception among Kyrgyz that ahead of 
demarcation, some border villages could be subjected to a creeping form of 
annexation, as Tajiks buy or rent homes left by people who have gone away to 
find work in the richer north of Kyrgyzstan, or in Russia and Kazakstan. 


Kyrgyz officials insist they took all the legal complexities into account when 
negotiating for the land. 

Alisher Ergeshov, who heads the government’s land registry, said that until 
demarcation formally took place, Tajik sovereignty over the land being leased 
by Kyrgyzstan would not be set in stone legally.

At the same time, Salamat Alamanov, who heads the government department for 
provincial affairs, and took part in the negotiations over the transfer, said 
the officials who studied the documents relating to this patch of land were 
satisfied that it was not under dispute.

Some locals – both Kyrgyz and Tajiks – warn that the new bypass will not help 
relations between the communities. 

“For a start, the authorities won’t be able to prevent all conflicts even if 
they build this stretch of road. It will pass very close to the Tajik village 
[of Chorku] and a Kyrgyz canal. That means that past incidents when boys threw 
stones at our buses and cars from the Tajik side will be repeated,” Bahrinsa 
Tajibaeva, from the Kyrgyz village of Aktatyr.

“I also have doubts about the quality of the road. Several other bypasses have 
been built in our region, but people always went for the old route through the 
enclaves because of the quality.”

Gulnara Derbisheva, a member of parliament from the pro-presidential Ak Jol 
party and a long-term resident of Batken, says there are wider issues relating 
to access to land and water around the road that need to be resolved. 

“It could be that the decision by the two countries’ security councils was the 
optimal solution, but another round of talks will be needed to provide more 
detailed clarification on matters relating to drinking water, pastures and so 
on, in order to prevent potential sources of tension,” she said.

In recent years, growing pressures on land availability, complicated by the 
sovereignty issue, have increased competition among communities along borders 
and around enclaves for farmland, pasture for livestock, access to water 
resources, and the right to fell trees for firewood. 

In Chorku itself, Tajik interviewees were concerned about what they might get 
out of the road agreement. Many believe there is a tacit deal in place where 
they will get access to Kyrgyz land. 

“There’s talk in the village that in return for what we’ve given up, we can use 
some Kyrgyz pasture land, “said Solimjon Mahmutjonov.

Others warned that the road could be a focus for protests if relations 

“The land belongs to us Tajiks, but the top people have decided to lease it 
out,” said resident Sobir Mustafaev. “But if Kyrgyzstan won’t assist us on 
matters like water, roads and pastures, then there will come a time when people 
gather together and block the [bypass] road.” 

Orozbek Moldaliev, director of the Politics, Religion and Security Centre in 
Bishkek, said that this kind of risk was inherent in the deal.

“A lease was not the best of decisions,” he said. “During periods when there is 
a confrontation, the Tajiks can block roads, saying the land belong to them.”

Alamanov, of the Kyrgyz government’s provincial affairs department, believes 
some of the concerns raised by both Kyrgyz and Tajik residents are being hyped 
up by outside interests. 

“I am sure someone is stirring up the locals,” he said. “As someone who has 
studied this for decades, I am 100 per cent certain that building this road is 
in the interests of the local population.”

Jenish Aydarov and Aslibegim Manzarshoeva are IWPR-trained contributors in 
Batken and Dushanbe, respectively. Additional interviews conducted by Mirgul 
Akimova, a journalist in Bishkek working under a pseudonym.


Local officials insist crackdown on Hizb ut-Tahrir is working, but rights 
groups say copying Uzbekistan is no answer.

By Venera Sultanova in Nookat and Dilbar Ruzadorova in Bishkek 

Hardliners in the Kyrgyz government appear determined to pursue tough tactics 
against the Islamic movement Hizb ut-Tahrir, despite warnings that heavy-handed 
action and assaults on people’s basic rights could increase support for the 
group rather than eroding it. 

An outbreak of unrest in the southern town of Nookat last autumn was followed 
by a wave of detentions of alleged supporters of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Human rights 
activists recorded numerous allegations of police brutality and other illegal 
actions, and this was confirmed in a report released by Kyrgyzstan’s official 
human rights watchdog. 

The disturbances occurred on October 1 when a demonstration against the town 
council’s refusal to arrange a celebration of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr 
to mark the end of Ramadan spilled over into violence. The demonstration was 
dispersed by riot squads bused in from the main regional centre, Osh, after 
protesters threw stones at local government offices. (For more on the unrest, 
see Kyrgyzstan: Islamic Protest Sparked by Official Insensitivity, RCA No. 551, 

A wave of detentions ensued in the days that followed. When the subsequent 
trial ended on November 27, a total of 32 people were convicted of a number of 
offences including incitement to cause mass unrest, overthrow the authorities, 
and create ethnic or religious strife. They received lengthy sentences ranging 
from nine to 20 years in prison. A 17-year old boy got nine years, while two 
women were given sentences of 15 and 16 years respectively. (For the immediate 
reaction to the trials, see Controversy Over Kyrgyz Protest Sentences, RCA No. 
558, 12-Dec-08.) 

In late January, the public relations chief of the Osh regional police, Jenish 
Sharshenbaev, told IWPR that ringleaders of the unrest were positively 
identified from video recordings made at the time. He said they accounted for 
the bulk of those detained in the subsequent sweep, and for all of those 

Officials said the disturbances were not spontaneous, but deliberately 
orchestrated by Hizb ut-Tahrir, which operates semi-covertly in Kyrgyzstan, 
especially in the south, where religious observance is stronger than in the 

Unlike Uzbekistan, where Islamic groups are persecuted and thousands of Hizb 
ut-Tahrir sympathisers have been jailed over the years, Kyrgyzstan has not 
explicitly banned membership of the organisation, although the Supreme Court 
issued a ruling prohibiting the group from operating in 2003, and the 
constitution prohibits faith-based political parties in general. 

The group has a radical agenda – to replace the region’s secular governments 
with an Islamic state – but it says it uses only non-violent methods. However, 
Central Asian governments have accused members of being behind a number of 
attacks and insist the movement poses a threat to security. In Kyrgyzstan, Hizb 
ut-Tahrir’s tactic in recent years has been to support the cause of local 
communities which have a particular grievance against the authorities. 

Officials estimate that Hizb ut-Tahrir has some 15,000 members in Kyrgyzstan, 
although religious affairs expert Ikbaljan Mirsaitov told the 24.kg news agency 
recently that there were no more than 2,000. 


There is substantial evidence suggesting that police denied detainees their 
rights and used physical violence in an attempt to coerce confessions. 
Documentation by human rights defenders was reinforced in late February by a 
highly critical report from a commission sent to Nookat by the ombudsman, 
Tursunbek Akun. 

The ombudsman’s office is funded by the state, but unlike similar institutions 
in other Central Asian states, the Kyrgyz version is independent enough to 
order a robust investigation of the kind conducted in Nookat and then publish 
its unvarnished findings. 

“My report on events in Nookat was quite tough and critical of the authorities’ 
actions, but [parliamentary] deputies, in particular, have accepted this 
criticism,” ombudsman Akun told IWPR. 

The investigative commission interviewed all sides – police, local officials, 
lawyers for the prosecution and defence, the individuals convicted, and their 
families – and found, among other things, that detainees were denied full 
access to legal counsel, held in custody for longer than the prescribed 48 
hours, and subjected to torture. Furthermore, no questions were asked in court 
during the hearing to approve the arrests warrants, even though some of the 
defendants bore visible injuries and two were unable to walk. 

The report also blamed local officials for allowing the demonstration to spiral 
out of control, and later on, for practicing various kinds of discrimination 
against family members of those convicted. 

The Moscow-based rights organisation Memorial issued a similarly damning report 
a month earlier, based on interviewees with detainees and family members. 

The Memorial report appears to have incensed officials in Bishkek, and its 
author Vitaly Ponomarev, who heads the group’s Central Asia programme, was 
deported from Kyrgyzstan in February. 

When IWPR spoke to residents of Nookat, they made similar claims that detainees 
were tortured and relatives harassed. 

One woman, who did not want to be named, said her sister suffered a miscarriage 
after being systematically beaten and forced to hold a heavy weight for 
prolonged periods while wearing handcuffs. This case was one of several cited 
in both the ombudsman’s and the Memorial reports. 

“When we were allowed to see her after making repeated official 
representations, we could see the marks left by the torture. Losing the baby 
was particularly hard for her to deal with,” said the woman’s sister. “And 
after all that, she got 16 years.” 

This woman said her sister was caught on police video only because she was in 
the town centre looking for one of her children who had got lost. 

Officials in Osh region continue to reject any allegation of systematic abuse. 

Atay Shakirov, deputy prosecutor for Osh region, told IWPR that all suspects 
were provided with legal counsel from the outset and then all the way through 
the investigation, despite the ombudsman’s report that this was not the case. 

The governor of Nookat district, Ahmadjan Mahamadov, who was appointed after 
the October violence, would go no further than to accept that some detentions 
had involved the use of force, but he said the individuals concerned were 
subsequently released. 

Meanwhile, relatives of people rounded up after the unrest accuse police of 
extorting money to release some, and not to arrest or torture others. 

A woman who gave her name as Maqsuda said that after her son was detained, 
police came round to the house and demanded a bribe, otherwise they would 
arrest her husband, too. Her husband later died on the way to hospital after 
hearing that the regional court had upheld the sentence that the district-level 
court had passed against her son, who she insists was innocent. 

The ombudsman’s report states that after the disturbances, police made a habit 
of picking people up and then demanding a “ransom” to let them go again. 

Relatives of those sent to prison told IWPR that their child benefits were 
withdrawn without explanation. A mother of five called Mavluda said a post 
office worker informed her that the money had been stopped after her husband 
was jailed, and also told her the same was happening to other people. 

Nookat’s local government chief, Mahamadov, denied that the authorities had 
ordered child benefits to be stopped, but promised to look into the matter. 


Representatives of local government and police, as well as some more senior 
figures, told IWPR that the long sentences handed down in November and the 
continuing efforts to root out Hizb ut-Tahrir are not only justified, but are 
proving an effective deterrent. Their argument is based on the view that 
Kyrgyzstan has tolerated extremist Muslim activity for too long, emboldening 
Hizb ut-Tahrir members to openly challenge the authorities, and it is now time 
to clamp down. 

Police in southern Kyrgyzstan are continuing to conduct raids to detain people 
they suspect are Hizb ut-Tahrir members. 

Shakir Zulimov, deputy head of Osh’s regional interior ministry department, 
said the methods now being used may be harsh, but “they are justified”. 

Zulimov said the police’s handling of the Nookat disturbances had prompted some 
members to leave the group. 

“They have started saying publicly that they are leaving the ranks of Hizb 
ut-Tahrir. In Nookat district, 18 Hizb ut-Tahrir members have renounced their 
adherence to it, 11 in Kara Suu district, and around 50 in [neighbouring] 
Jalalabad region have also done so in public,” he said. “In other words, our 
tough actions have been justified and are already bearing fruit. Supporters of 
the party are no longer speaking in public as they used to do.” 

In the interview he gave to the 24.kg agency, religious affairs expert 
Mirsaitov said police were openly using the aftermath Nookat as a deterrent to 

As an example, he cited the February 24 gathering of around 100 Hizb ut-Tahrir 
supporters in the town of Uzgen, who dispersed after prosecutors warned them of 
the consequences. The group was protesting against the arrest of two men 
identified as the Hizb ut-Tahrir leader in Uzgen and an associate. 

If local officials appear determined to stamp out Hizb ut-Tahrir, it is less 
clear to what extent the campaign reflects policy at the highest level in 

The Memorial report suggested that the drive to mete out harsh punishment to 
Hizb ut-Tahrir members detained after the Nookat unrest came from national 
level, specifically from certain conservative-minded politicians and from hawks 
in the law enforcement agencies working in tandem. 

“If the approach they are proposing gains the upper hand, we may very soon 
witness fabricated political and criminal charges on a massive scale, with the 
aim of convicting more and more suspected and real ‘extremists’, both religious 
and secular,” said the document. 

“Such actions, if sanctioned by the political leadership, will merely provoke 
increasing instability and a strengthening of radical Islamic groups. The 
situation must also be viewed within the context of the complex ethnic 
relations in southern Kyrgyzstan… it is noteworthy that of the 32 Nookat 
residents convicted, 25 were ethnic Uzbeks.” 

Interviewed by IWPR, interior ministry spokesman Bakyt Seitov said, “The 
Interior Ministry is taking a tough stand. We are doing preventive work in the 
provinces to tell people about the nature of religious extremism. We have to be 
tough about halting the activities of religious organisations.” 

This view was echoed by Kanybek Osmonaliev, who chairs the government committee 
that oversees religious affairs. At a March 18 conference in Osh, he cited a 
controversial law passed in October that imposes tighter controls on religious 
groups, and said it was a step forward. Under the old, more lax legislation, he 
said, Kyrgyzstan had become an attractive destination for a range of religious 
groups, including radical ones. 

The ombudsman insists that this policy does not come from President Kurmanbek 

“The president’s policy on religion is quite sympathetic and balanced. It is 
the law enforcement agencies and the state committee for religion that are 
exacerbating the situation, and doing the president a disservice by damaging 
his reputation,” said Akun. 


Human rights activists and religious affairs analysts warn that excessively 
heavy-handed tactics will merely radicalise members of groups like Hizb 
ut-Tahrir, and encourage them to disappear below the security forces’ radar. 

“The punitive and repressive methods currently being employed could drive them 
[Hizb ut-Tahrir members] underground, and make it even more difficult efforts 
for the authorities and the law enforcement agencies to control them,” said 
Ravshan Gapirov, a human rights activist who has acted on behalf of a number of 
alleged Hibz ut Tahrir members when they were arrested and put on trial. 

Another activist, Sadykjan Mahmudov, accepts that Hizb ut-Tahrir exploited the 
degree of tolerance it used to enjoy in order to operate openly and recruit new 
members, but he says completely reversing that policy is not the answer. 

“It doesn’t figure that more repression is needed. Violence always breeds 
violence,” he said. The state and the law enforcement agencies should have 
behaved punctiliously and avoided any unlawful action. The public can now see 
them acting very harshly and unfairly,” he said, 

A Hizb ut-Tahrir activist who gave his name as Hakimjan seemed to confirm that 
the crackdown would make the group less visible without actually preventing it 

“The use of force by the Kyrgyz authorities will not affect activities of our 
members. On the contrary we will act more carefully, and with greater unity,” 
he said. 

Hakimjan claimed that of the 32 people jailed for the Nookat violence, only one 
was a Hizb ut-Tahrir member, while “the others are people whose relatives were 
unable to buy their freedom. Some of our activists were among those detained, 
but their families bought them out by bribing police and security service 

He added, “Unfair treatment by the law enforcement forces can only be to our 
advantage. The relatives of people convicted after Nookat have expressed 
interest in our party, and they are likely to join us as a protest against the 

A number of interviewees drew parallels with neighbouring Uzbekistan, where the 
government has used mass arrests and violence in an attempt to root out one 
Islamic group after another over the last decade and a half. 

“In the early Nineties, many religious groups in Uzbekistan became radicalised 
because of the inappropriate measures that were undertaken,” said Orozbek 
Moldaliev, an expert on religion and security matters. “That’s the main lesson 
the authorities here need to learn. You cannot fight religious extremism using 

Many commentators in Kyrgyzstan believes Uzbekistan continues to exert a malign 
influence on shaping policy towards Islamic radicals, encouraging Kyrgyz 
leaders to crack down and contain the problem, and to forget about human 

Gapirov says the tactics now on display bear “the Uzbek signature”, and began 
being applied after President Bakiev had a private meeting with his counterpart 
Islam Karimov. 

Moldaliev believes the only way to check the growth of radicalism is for the 
state authorities to engage mainstream Muslim clerics in changing hearts and 

At the same time, he identifies another failing that needs to be addressed – 
the inability of local government to manage disputes sensibly, so that a 
confrontation such as the one about holding a Muslim celebration in Nookat can 
be prevented from blowing up into a conflict. 

An example of this, he said, was the recurring dispute over whether devout 
Muslim girls should be banned from wearing headscarves in state schools. 

“That’s a good illustration of how ordinary believers start to stand up for 
their rights and become radicalised,” he said. 

Venera Sultanova is the pseudonym of a freelance journalist in Kyrgyzstan. 
Dilbar Ruzadorova is an IWPR-trained reporter. 

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