its campaign to block Kyrgyz and Tajik river projects.  By Galiaskar Utegulov 
in Almaty, Aslibegim Manzarshoeva in Dushanbe and Aida Kasymalieva in Bishkek

UZBEK AUTHORITIES FIND NEW “ISLAMIST ENEMY”  Government mounts campaign to weed 
out associates of Nur movement, although its motives remain unclear.  By IWPR 
staff in Central Asia Bishkek

running-mates for presidential polls are seen as credible figures, but not 
necessarily winners.  Anara Yusupova in Bishkek

resources to ensure half their output is in Kyrgyz.  By Asyl Osmonalieva in 

current cabinet faces imminent dismissal.  By Elmira Gabidullina in Almaty

CATTLE RUSTLERS RIDE OUT IN KAZAKSTAN  Raiders lift livestock as old tradition 
is amended to suit new reality of economic crisis.  By Daniyar Bakhtagaliev in 

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Tashkent is seeking allies in its campaign to block Kyrgyz and Tajik river 

By Galiaskar Utegulov in Almaty, Aslibegim Manzarshoeva in Dushanbe and Aida 
Kasymalieva in Bishkek

When the five Central Asian presidents gather in the Kazak city of Almaty on 
April 28, top of the official agenda will be the fate of the shrinking Aral 

However, it seems likely they will spend much of their time disputing how to 
manage the water resources their states share, and the closely related issue of 

One key question that the summit may answer is whether Uzbekistan is succeeding 
in getting Kazak leaders on side in its efforts to obstruct hydroelectric dam 
projects in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. 

All five presidents turned up for a rare meeting formally held in order to to 
discuss progress and structural issues around the International Fund to Save 
the Aral Sea, IFAS, a common body set up by the Central Asian states in 1993. 

Commentators point to an emerging consolidation of the downstream states – 
oil-and gas-rich Uzbekistan, Kazakstan and Turkmenistan – against their two 
smaller neighbours Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. 

The latter states, in whose mountains Central Asia’s two great rivers rise, are 
keen to address their chronic energy shortages by adding more hydroelectric 
power stations to those they already have. This strategy makes the other three 
states anxious that damming up waterways will deprive them of water for 
agriculture and other uses. 

All five leaders periodically speak of the need for a common strategy to 
distribute water fairly, and compensate Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan accordingly 
with supplies of oil, gas and coal, but the issue has never been conclusively 
resolved since they became independent states in 1991.

Analysts say a divide between the two states with water and the three with fuel 
reserves would be extremely unhelpful, and would obstruct any kind of mutually 
beneficial outcome as well as wider political relationships between the five.

Kyrgyzstan is planning to build two schemes called Kambarata-1 and Kambarata-2 
on the Naryn river, where it already has a major hydropower dam, Toktogul. The 
Naryn is a major tributary of the Syr Darya, which runs through Tajik and Uzbek 
territory to reach Kazakstan, where it dries up before it even reaches the Aral 
Sea. Tajikistan wants to complete the giant Roghun hydroelectric dam on a 
tributary of the Amu Darya, which again goes through Uzbekistan, and also 
supplies Turkmenistan through a major arterial canal. 

To complicate the regional politics of water, Russia has promised to invest in 
both the Kambarata and Roghun projects.

Both Kazakstan and Turkmenistan have good reason to worry about water flows 
from these two rivers. Turkmenistan is a largely desert country and water is 
vital to its population as well as to its cotton industry. Southern Kazakstan, 
meanwhile, suffers intermittent shortages of water when the Kyrgyz fill up 
reservoirs to generate power over the winter, and then endures flooding when 
they dump excess water.

It is Uzbekistan, however, which complains most vociferously about plans to 
create new dams on both rivers. It has the largest population in the region and 
its commercial agriculture is focused on producing cotton, a lucrative source 
of export revenues but a thirsty crop. Many analysts blame the Soviet 
authorities’ unchecked expansion of cotton production using wasteful irrigation 
methods for the catastrophic decline in the Aral’s waters. 

Tashkent has proposed that major hydroelectric projects be made subject to 
tougher technical requirements, and preceded by internationally-run feasibility 

Traditionally, Uzbekistan has tended to go it alone in pressing its concerns, 
using the natural gas it supplies to the Tajiks and Kyrgyz as leverage. 

But in recent months the Uzbeks have shown a definite will to engage 
Turkmenistan and latterly also Kazakstan in opposing the Roghun and Kambarata 

During a visit to Tashkent in late February, Turkmen president Gurbanguly 
Berdymuhammedov threw his weight behind the Uzbek position that energy projects 
on Central Asia’s transnational waterways should not happen unless the 
inte+rests of all states are taken into account, as well as the environmental 
impact on the region.

That leaves Kazakstan the only state that has not publicly stated its 
opposition to the Kyrgyz and Tajik power schemes. Relations between Kazakstan 
and Uzbekistan, the giants of the region, have been difficult over the years, 
in part because each suspects the other of aspirations to regional leadership. 

However, there are signs that Uzbek president Islam Karimov has been making 
overtures to his Kazak counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev on the water issue. The 
two men had a phone conversation on April 2, which an otherwise official 
statement said touched on water and energy as well as the usual niceties.

The following day, Kazakstan’s prime minister Karim Masimov visited Tashkent 
and met Karimov. Analysts read this as a clear sign that the two leaderships 
were comparing notes ahead of the Aral summit. A joint statement issued 
afterwards was quite explicit, saying the two countries planned to “present a 
united front on the water issue”.

Less than two weeks later, the Uzbek foreign ministry published a press release 
on its website restating the government’s official view on Kyrgyz and Tajik 
energy plans, which it said “pursue commercial interests and far-reaching 
political objectives, but disregard the possible consequences, and ignore the 
concerns of the neighbouring states”. 

Uzbekistan’s position, it said, was that “any large-scale construction projects 
[on] trans-boundary rivers requires the endorsement of all countries in the 

Predictably, Kyrgyz and Tajik leaders have reacted to such statements with 
animosity. In an annual address to parliament on April 15, Tajik president 
Imomali Rahmon dismissed as “groundless” claims that hydroelectric schemes will 
reduce water flows and harm the environment. Two days later, Kyrgyzstan’s 
Kurmanbek Bakiev accused unspecified “other countries” of trying to “gain 
control over our strategic resources”. 

Ahead of the Almaty meeting, officials from Kazakstan and Uzbekistan were not 
giving much away. Kazak foreign ministry spokesman Ilyas Omarov told IWPR to 
wait for the meeting itself, where proposals would be put on the table, 
including by Kazakstan. 

The Uzbek embassy in Kazakstan refused to comment, saying merely that water 
experts were very busy at the moment. 

Many analysts across the region fear the consequences of a split between those 
states that control the water, and the others whose populations depend on a 
steady supply. 

“If Kazakstan and Uzbekistan form one camp and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 
another, it could worsen relations between these countries not only on water 
and energy, but also on other issues,” said Farhod Talibov, a political analyst 
in Uzbekistan. 

Komron Aliev, an economist also from Uzbekistan, agreed, warning that “if each 
[state] becomes wrapped up in its own interests, the water and energy issue 
will remain unresolved for decades”. 

Aydos Sarimov, a political scientist in Kazakstan, warned of wider 
ramifications down the line, such as “a complete lack of trust and constructive 
dialogue among Central Asian leaders”. 

Change will only come when “more sensible politicians come to power, ones who 
seek cooperation rather than pointless competition”, he added. 

In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, however, some analysts support their respective 
governments’ assertion that the dam schemes are their own business and no one 

“We do not need approval to start building the Kambarata plant or any other 
reservoir on our rivers,” said Bazarbay Mambetov, an expert on water and energy 
issues in Kyrgyzstan. “It is only out of deference to our neighbours that we 
have informed them of our plans.”

Mambetov suggested that President Karimov was being “misinformed” about the 
likely impact of the dam schemes.

He went on to highlight the uneven distribution of energy sources in the 

“Kyrgyzstan has no oil, gas or coal so we have to buy them from Uzbekistan and 
Kazakstan,” he said. “Both Uzbekistan and Kazakstan need to accept that they 
don’t have water resources, and to acknowledge the right of Kyrgyzstan and 
Tajikistan – which do – to use them at their own discretion.” 

Many politicians and commentators in Kyrgyzstan think it unfair that the Uzbeks 
and Kazaks regard water as a natural gift rather than a commodity, like mineral 
fuels, on which a monetary value can be placed. They get annoyed that the 
Uzbeks can charge them near-world market prices for gas and still complain when 
they store water in reservoirs to avoid running short of electricity in winter. 

During the Soviet period, Tajik and Kyrgyz power stations served a unitary 
economic system and were designed to supply the entire Central Asian 
electricity grid and also regulate water flows to the downstream republics. In 
turn, the Tajiks and Kyrgyz received oil, gas and coal from other republics. 
After 1991, however, the Kazaks and Uzbeks began selling their fuel at 
commercial rates.

Mambetov suspects Tashkent does not want to lose the power it currently enjoys 
as Kyrgyzstan’s natural gas supplier. 

“Uzbekistan is afraid that after the two [Kambarata] plants are completed… 
Kyrgyzstan will no longer need gas and coal, since it will have enough 
electricity for most of its energy needs,” he said.

By contrast, Georgy Petrov, a senior scientist at Tajikistan’s Institute for 
Water, Hydropower and Ecology, accepts that the Uzbeks and Kazaks have real 

“It’s quite simple,” he said. Uzbekistan is concerned that major hydropower 
systems will be run in a manner that is harmful to the downstream countries…. 
One of the tasks of this summit is to create management arrangements that stop 
such things happening.” 

In Uzbekistan, economist Komron Aliev said the Kyrgyz and Tajik would do well 
to be a little more receptive to the opinions and concerns of their neighbours. 
It would, for example, be possible to invite these states to be part of 
hydroelectric projects rather than leaving them as hostile outsiders. 

There are even signs that the Uzbeks have been putting out feelers to 
Tajikistan – restoring electricity supplies that had been cut in January, and 
attending a bilateral meeting on economic matters held in Dushanbe. 

“Islam Karimov is now saying he isn’t against the construction of hydroelectric 
power stations and is even prepared to participate in them,” said Petrov. 
“Rahmon, too, has made it clear in his speeches that we [Tajiks] have never 
stated that we would leave the downstream state without water.”

Interviewed by IWPR last month, Tajik political analyst Rashidghani Abdullo 
suggested that President Karimov was displaying a new pragmatism. With several 
hydropower schemes well on their way to completion, he said, the Uzbeks may 
have concluded that the policy of “vehement opposition… hasn’t been a success”. 

Analysts say the success of any deal on water will depend on the extent to 
which the various governments are prepared to see and respect others’ points of 
views; on whether they will countenance a radical re-think of current water 
management arragements; and on their readiness to observe the terms of 
inter-state agreements rather than merely signing them, as has so often been 
the case in the past.

Jumakadyr Akeneev, a former Kyrgyz agriculture minister, says regional blocs 
like the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Shanghai Cooperation 
Organisation can facilitate talks, but little more. 

“Regional organisations… will not be able to help resolve this problem. This is 
one for the five Central Asian states,” he said. 

Alikhon Latifi, an environmentalist in Dushanbe, warned that Tajikistan and 
Kyrgyzstan could only be expected to shift position if the Kazaks, Uzbeks and 
Turkmen, too, were prepared to give things up. 

“There will be no concessions if they are to be unilateral,” he said, 

Both Latifi and Petrov highlighted the fact that the divide between the water 
“haves” and “have nots” is over-simplistic, since all of them use irrigation, 
sometimes wastefully. 

As Petrov noted, “Kazakstan is at the end of the line for the [Syr Darya] water 
that Kyrgyzstan provides. It isn’t just that Kyrgyzstan does not provide 
[enough] water. All the countries suffer, but Kazakstan suffers more than most 
because Uzbekistan takes all it can and Kazakstan only gets what is left.”

Latifi added, “Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan are still using the old 
method of irrigation which is not appropriate for today’s realities. All of us 
should have introduced water-saving technologies for irrigation – and that 
includes Tajikistan.”

Galiaskar Utegulov is the pseudonym of a freelance journalist in Kazakhstan, 
Aslibegim Manzarshoeva is an IWPR-trained contributor in Tajikistan, and Aida 
Kasymalieva is IWPR’s editor for Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan.


Government mounts campaign to weed out associates of Nur movement, although its 
motives remain unclear.

By IWPR staff in Central Asia Bishkek

A Turkish Muslim movement has become the latest target in the Uzbek 
government’s long and bitter on war on anything it regards as radical Islam. 

In a trial that opened in the western city of Bukhara on April 21, nine men are 
accused of offences under article 244 of Uzbekistan’s criminal code covering 
religious extremism, separatism, and forming or belonging to an extremist 

Yet little evidence has been brought to show they were members of an organised 
group, and none that demonstrates they held extremist views.

The defendants include Ikrom Meryaev, 37, who is deputy head of physics and 
mathematics at Bukhara University. He and the eight other defendants were 
arrested in December while meeting at his house.

They are accused of being part of a movement associated with the Turkish 
Islamic thinker Fethullah Gülen, which is best known in Central Asia for its 
involvement in running private lycees. 

Gülen’s movement is also referred to as Nur (Light), derived from the movement 
inspired by Said Nursi, an Islamic thinker in Turkey who died in 1960. 

In the early Nineties, Turkish lycees sprang up all over the region, attracting 
the children of the elite. 

Uzbekistan encouraged these schools as a way of fostering political relations 
with the Turks, who had become interested in their ethnic kin in Central Asia 
after the fall of the Soviet Union. 

When a series of bombs went off in the Uzbek capital Tashkent in 1999, the 
authorities blamed two groups – the armed insurgents of the Islamic Movement of 
Uzbekistan, IMU, and the covert party Hizb ut-Tahrir. 

Soon afterwards, in 2000, the government closed the Turkish schools, apparently 
out of a fear that they were secretly encouraging Muslim irredentism. 

Although the lycees with Gülen supporters on staff did not teach an openly 
religious agenda, and the Nur movement’s published ideas have nothing in common 
with the revolutionary fundamentalism of the IMU and Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Uzbek 
authorities appear to have tarred them all with the same brush. 

Recent months have seen a series of arrests of alleged “Nurchilar”, as members 
of the Gülen group are called in Uzbek.

The latest court case comes shortly after another trial ended in long jail 
terms for three alleged Nur members accused under the same criminal code 
article on religious extremism. 

Shavkat Ismoilov, who ran a newspaper called Yetti Iklim (“The Seven Zones”), 
and Davron Tojibaev, who was chief editor of a magazine called Irmoq 
(“Wellspring”), got eight years each when sentence was passed on April 9. 
Mamadali Shahabiddinov, the imam or prayer leader at the Makhtub Eshon mosque 
in Namangan, received a 12-year term. 

Yetti Iklim and Irmoq made no secret about publicising Said Nursi’s ideas. Yet 
in 2007, both publications went through the onerous registration process which 
screens out anything the Uzbek authorities regard as politically controversial 
or undesirable – there are no opposition media in the country. 

Both the paper and the magazine have now been closed down.

On February 26, five other members of staff at Irmoq were sentenced to between 
eight and 12 years, on charges of distributing information that presented a 
threat to public security, and involvement in the Nur organisation.

The court heard evidence from prosecutors that the defendants were graduates of 
Turkish-run lycees.

At this trial, the accused did not deny spreading Said Nursi’s ideas, but 
rejected claims that this equated to Islamic extremism.

“I am against any kind of extremism and I fully support the policies of the 
Uzbek government,” said one of the defendants, Bahrom Ibrahimov, who got 12 

Anvar Mamedov, the lawyer who defended the men, said little hard evidence was 
produced that his clients had published dangerous material.

“The [court’s] findings stated that the general context of the articles might 
constitute a threat to public security, yet they failed to cite specific 
sentences or phrases that count as extremist,” he said.

One human rights group in Uzbekistan, Ezgulik, reports that a total of 50 
suspected Nur sympathisers have been arrested around the country. According to 
Ezgulik activist According to Abdurahmon Tashanov, police are rounding up 
people who attended Turkish lycees in the past.

One of these former pupils told told IWPR how he was summoned for questioning 
by the National Security Service, SNB.

“They won’t leave us in peace,” he said. “I’ve got nothing to say to them, as I 
have nothing to do with the Nur people.”

As is common in a country where state media are used to relay messages from 
government, the multiple prosecutions have been accompanied by the repeated 
airing of a TV documentary claiming to show the true face of the Nur movement.

Entitled, “The light that brings darkness”, the TV programmes used information 
from Uzbekistan’s National Security Service to underpin its argument that 
education was merely a tool to secretly train Nur activists for the ultimate 
goal of creating Islamic states from Turkey to Central Asia.

“The so-called educational and charitable assistance provided by the Nursi sect 
is a threat to the national values of the Uzbek state,” the narrator said at 
one point.

Analysts question whether the Gülen movement poses even a remote danger to a 
police state like Uzbekistan, or whether the security services have simply got 
into the way of identifying Islamic groups as enemies that need to be rooted 

“They are looking for enemies where there are none, “said Tashpulat Yoldashev, 
an Uzbek political analyst now living abroad.

“What religious organisation could function under the nose of the Uzbek SNB? 
That’s impossible, given the way the current regime operates.”

Uzbekistan’s president, Islami Karimov, harassed secular opposition groups out 
of existence by the early Nineties, and then turned his attention to Islamic 
groups, clearly fearing that any form of religious expression not controlled by 
the state might provide a channel for expressions of popular dissent.

He began by eliminating those Islamic clerics who did not share his vision of 
religion as an instrument of state policy. This clampdown led to the emergence 
of the IMU, which conducted armed guerrilla raids in 1999 and 2000 – resulting 
in mass arrests.

The radical Hizb-ut-Tahrir was dealt with by similarly indiscriminate waves of 
arrests, although it continues to operate covertly.

The government continues to see anything that looks like an uncontrolled 
expressions of Muslim faith. Gülen’s published views are apolitical and he 
calls for interfaith dialogue and tolerance. For Uzbekistan’s leaders, it seems 
to be enough that his followers talk about Islam, and that their inspiration is 


Two men selected as running-mates for presidential polls are seen as credible 
figures, but not necessarily winners.

Anara Yusupova in Bishkek

The two candidates the Kyrgyz opposition has selected to stand in this summer’s 
presidential election are respectable choices, although not perhaps a winning 
team, analysts say. 

That has led some analysts to ask whether the opposition's main candidate, 
Social Democratic Party leader Almazbek Atambaev, might be a stalking-horse who 
would be replaced by an opposition heavyweight at a later stage in the election 

The incumbent, Kurmanbek Bakiev, is running for a second term in the July 23 
polls. He was elected in July 2005, after he and other members of the then 
united opposition led mass protests that swept President Askar Akaev from power 
in March that year. 

The early election date took the Kyrgyz political world by surprise when it was 
announced last month, not least because there had been some controversy over 
whether it should take place this year or next. (See Surprise Early Polls for 
Kyrgyzstan, RCA No. 570, 20-Mar-09.) 

At a press conference on April 20, the United People’s Movement, UPM – an 
alliance that unites the major parties ranged against the Bakiev administration 
– announced that Atambaev, 52, was their lead candidate. Former defence 
minister Ismail Isakov, 58, was named as his running-mate, or as the opposition 
put it his “double”, held in reserve in case Atambaev has to pull out. 

As Isakov himself told IWPR, “I am a reserve candidate, meaning that we both go 
for the election… If one of us doesn’t manage to reach the final stage for 
whatever reason, the other remains and votes go to him.” 

Political analysts see the decision to field twin candidates as a tactic to win 
the maximum number of votes across the country. As political support in 
Kyrgyzstan tends to be sharply divided between the north and the south, the 
northerner Atambaev is nicely balanced with the southerner Isakov. 

This approach has been used before – when Bakiev, who hails from the south, ran 
in 2005, he teamed up with the northerner Felix Kulov. 

As part of the deal, Kulov was made prime minister, but his political alliance 
with Bakiev subsequently fell apart and by the spring of 2007 he was leading 
the opposition. 

According to political analyst Nur Omarov, this new pairing is unlikely to 
create a repeat of those tensions. 

“I think they [Atambaev and Isakov] will fight to the finish as a united team. 
There’s no reason for friction between them, no grounds for conflict,” he said. 

Omarov believes the opposition is right to nominate a pair of candidates for 
another reason, too – the risk that one of them will have to pull out as a 
result of a campaign to discredit him. 

“The reserve candidate is needed because the opposition realises the 
authorities will move against strong candidates, either by bringing a criminal 
case against them, or by dredging up their past sins or those committed by 
their relatives.” 

Atambaev was part of the opposition forces involved in the March 2005 
revolution, and then served as industry minister before switching to the new 
anti-Bakiev opposition. 

He went on to serve as prime minister for eight months in 2007, as part of what 
observers saw as a strategy of coopting opposition members. 

Now he is part of the UPM, which was forged last December and includes major 
opposition parties like Ata Meken, Ak Shumkar, Asaba and Jany Kyrgyzstan, as 
well as Atambaev’s Social Democrats, the only party represented in parliament 
aside from the governing Ak Jol and a handful of Communists. 

Atambaev’s party says he is the right man for the job as he is widely known in 
Kyrgyzstan, has the right kind of personality and is independently wealthy from 
running a successful publishing business in the early Nineties. 

In an interview for IWPR, Atambaev said, “I know how to impose order in this 
country and how to put the economy back on its feet. We want to build a state 
where political power works for the benefit of the people and is strictly 
accountable to them, a state where there is no scope for dynastic rule.” 

He pledged to work to make Kyrgyzstan a country “where opposition journalists 
don’t get their arms broken, and political opponents are not killed or 
imprisoned under various pretexts. 

Isakov is a former major-general who was defence minister from 2005 until May 
last year, when he was appointed secretary of Kyrgyzstan’s Security Council. He 
stepped down from that post in October, accusing the government of 
authoritarianism and of presiding over corruption. (For a report on this, see 
Kyrgyz Political Elite Hit by Infighting, RCA No. 552, 21-Oct-08.) 

He aligned himself with the opposition, and found himself facing criminal 
charges relating to alleged abuse of his powers and of public funds during his 
time as defence minister. 

The trial is ongoing, but Isakov told IWPR it would not affect his role as a 
candidate and that in any case, he was completely innocent of all charges. 

Whether the Atambaev-Isakov pairing is the opposition’s final, fixed choice is 
still open to question. 

Omarov believes the opposition will try to anticipate the possibility of a 
spoiling move against one of the candidates, and may produce a second reserve 

Another analyst, Mars Sariev, believes Atambaev has been put up as a 
stalking-horse so that the opposition can slot in a more radical figure later 
“Nominating Atambaev as a candidate is a pre-election manoeuvre, a kind of ploy 
on the part of the opposition. I don’t think this is the candidate that will 
rally the electorate,” he said. 

“First, the south will never vote for a northerner [Atambaev]. Second, he’s 
been in government as prime minister… so it’s likely the opposition will have 
to select another figure. Atambaev is there to take the first hit from the 
administration, and then he’ll quietly leave the stage.” 

So who might replace Atambaev? Sariev sees two likely candidates – Ata Meken 
Omurbek Tekebaev and Bakytbek Beshimov, who heads the Social Democrat faction 
in parliament. 

Tekebaev, he said, has a reputation for holding consistently to his political 
principles, whereas Atambaev’s past as prime minister under Bakiev makes him a 
more ambiguous figure. 

The former parliamentary speaker Tekebaev has publicly thrown his weight behind 
Atambaev. But Sariev says that does not rule him out. 

Beshimov, too, has backed the Atambaev-Isakov candidacy as proof that the often 
divided Kyrgyz opposition has risen above issues of personality. 

Sariev says Beshimov is popular among intellectuals but the fact that he was 
vice-president of the American University of Central Asia could be used against 
him as evidence of an excessively pro-United States stance. 

For the moment, two other well-known opposition figures are officially not 
running for president - Kulov and Azimbek Beknazarov, the former chief 
prosecutor who leads the Revolutionary Movement of Kyrgyzstan, the most radical 
section of the opposition. 

Dinara Oshurkhunova, who heads the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, 
does not believe the opposition is going to produce more candidates out of a 
hat. As she told the Bishkek Press Club on April 22, the proximity of the 
election means “the opposition has no time to spring any surprises”. 

Although observers are divided on whether the opposition should place all its 
hopes on Atambaev winning, most agree he is a credible enough candidate, with a 
strong economic background. 

“Atambaev is a seasoned political player, highly educated, with lots of 
experience in public and political life,” said political analyst Toktogul 
Kakcheev. “He was persecuted under Akaev, and when he was prime minister under 
the current administrations, his detractors tried to undermine him. He’s 
incapable of lying; he always tells the truth.” 

Even politicians on the other side of the divide are prepared to admit that 
Atambaev makes a decent candidate. 

“Compared with the other opposition leaders, Atambaev is the best candidate,” 
said Ulukbek Ormonov, who leads the pro-Bakiev Ak Jol faction in parliament. 
“People know him as he’s been prime minister. He isn’t an objectionable 
political figure.” 

Of course, Ormonov insists, Bakiev will beat Atambaev hands down on election 

“People support him [the president], and his rating has gone up in light of 
recent political developments – the forging of closer ties with Russia and 
positive changes in the economy.” 

As things stand, Jamila Alymbekova of the Central Election Committee told IWPR 
that only two people have actually registered as candidates so far – Isakov and 
Jenishbek Nazaraliev, a doctor well-known in Kyrgyzstan for his treatment of 
drug addiction. 

The registration process ends on June 17, after which formal campaigning gets 
under way. 

Anara Yusupova is a pseudonym for a journalist in Bishkek.


Broadcasters say they lack the resources to ensure half their output is in 

By Asyl Osmonalieva in Bishkek

A year after passing a controversial media law, the Kyrgyzstan parliament has 
amended it, without fixing what critics said were its worst features. 

The amendments passed on April 21 leave two of the most widely disputed 
stipulations in place – the requirements that half of broadcast output has to 
be in the Kyrgyz language rather than Russian, and that broadcasters have to 
generate rather than buy in half of their overall output. 

Private TV and radio stations say these provisions threaten their existence as 
they do not have the resources to produce more than they do now. 

The day after the amendments were passed, over 30 media organisations wrote to 
President Kurmanbek Bakiev asking him to use his powers as final arbiter to 
strike out Article 8 of the law, which contains the stipulations they object 

The law generated the same kind of controversy when it was passed exactly a 
year ago. See Kyrgyz Media Bill Goes Back to Square One, RCA No. 544, 

At the time, opponents of the bill argued that the law contradicted other 
legislation and Kyrgyzstan’s constitution, and was liable to reduce the scope 
for freedom of expression. 

Despite these objections, President Bakiev signed off on the law last June, 
albeit with the proviso that it should be subject to amendment as further 
comments and recommendations were submitted, and he set up a working group to 
oversee this process. 

“The law was in rough shape, and media companies immediately raised a lot of 
questions about it, for instance on the language restriction, on the 
distribution of frequencies and on [procedures for] re-registering media 
outlets,” recalled Bermet Usenova, who heads the Institute of the Media 
Representative, a non-government watchdog group. 

Usenova noted that the working group, including representatives of the media, 
parliament and government, it duly spent the period between December and April 
hammering out compromise wordings on the more sensitive parts of the law.

According to Roman Milovatsky, the head of the Association of Radio and 
Television of Kyrgyzstan, 80 per cent of these recommendations were duly 
incorporated into the amendments as passed. 

“We drafted regulations for the licensing agencies and for the distribution of 
unallocated TV and radio frequencies,” he told IWPR. “These amendments could 
double the number of TV channels and radio stations.” 

But one set of recommendations was ignored. The working committee agreed that 
the rule requiring broadcasters to produce half their output themselves, and 
half of their material in Kyrgyz, should be phased in over three years, so that 
the initial requirement would be for 20 rather than 50 per cent. 

However, when the parliamentary committee handling the amendments put them 
forward for a vote, it cut out this provision. 

Milovatsky said, “The fact that the parliamentarians left Article 8 in force 
cancels out all the rest of the amendments. Under these circumstances it is 
doubtful that the existing TV and radio companies will survive, let alone new 
ones. Right now the provincial radio stations don’t even put out local news 
because their budgets are very tight. They’re forced to carry weekly rather 
than daily news bulletins. And that means the proportion of output they 
generate themselves is two per cent, maximum.” 

Tilekan Asanova, acting head of Piramida, one of the leading private TV 
stations, confirmed that it did not have the resources to generate large 
amounts of original material or to ensure half of it was in Kyrgyz. 

“Production and reporting costs a lot of money,” she said. “Given that the 
advertising market is limited, we cannot afford to increase our output to 50 
per cent.” 

Kadyrbek Abdraev of the culture and information ministry notes that not only do 
stations lack the funds to make their own programmes, there are no independent 
production studios that they could commission to make this material for them. 

The language issue is an emotive one, and the parliamentarians who supported 
the law in its present shape were clearly trying to promote the use of Kyrgyz 
in an environment where much of what is produced domestically, on top of the 
Moscow channels that are popular here, is in Russian. 

Ibrahim Junusov from the governing party Ak Jol, for example, was insistent 
that linguistic parity should not be phased in. 

“We live in Kyrgyzstan so it is quite offensive to ask for this requirement to 
be lowered to 20 per cent,” he said in an interview for the Bishkek Press Club. 
“Some of our voters are saying we should make it even more and have 70 or 80 
per cent of total airtime in Kyrgyz,” 

Again, the principal objections to the 50 per cent Kyrgyz requirement come down 
to resources, and the shortage of journalists and presenters with sufficient 
fluency in the language. 

As Abdraev put it, the members of parliament who pushed for the stipulation 
seemed to forget what the financial implications would be. 

He said that the media were moving in the right direction anyway and just 
needed to be “given time to make a smooth transition to the 50 per cent level.” 

Milovatsky agreed, adding, “A few years ago, seven out of every ten newspapers 
were in Russian and the other three in Kyrgyz. Now the situation’s changed, and 
it’s definitely the other way around.” 

A phased introduction would allow this to happen naturally, he said, explaining 
how “owners would move to accommodate the consumer and we’d hit the 50 per cent 
mark not in three years, but in much less time – a year or 18 months. But it’s 
essential to allow time, and not to demand an instantaneous switch.”. 

Some media-watcher are concerned that the new requirements could be misused to 
close down broadcasters which the authorities do not like. As things stand, 
said Asanova, “many of the TV and radio companies are outside the law”. 

The main criticism of the latest version of the media law is therefore as much 
about timing as about content. Analysts agree that private broadcasters are not 
yet strong enough to meet the stringent requirements for original content and 
Kyrgyz-language material, and forcing them into rapid change will simply drive 
production values down. 

“People will prefer to watch cable TV to poor-quality programmes from 
[Kyrgyzstan] channels,” said Milovatsky. 

Asyl Osmonalieva is an IWPR-trained reporter in Bishkek. 


Some argue the current cabinet faces imminent dismissal.

By Elmira Gabidullina in Almaty

A recent reshuffle of the judiciary and law enforcement in Kazakstan is 
increasingly being viewed as the first sign of more sweeping changes ahead. As 
ministers are forced to admit for the first time that the economy is in poor 
shape, some are predicting a change of government. 

On April 3, the Kazak parliament approved four appointments proposed by 
President Nursultan Nazarbaev, meaning that Musabek Alimbekov became head of 
the Supreme Court, Kairat Mami is the new prosecutor-general, Rashid Tusupbekov 
is justice minister, and Serik Baymaganbetov is minister of internal affairs. 

Speaking at a televised meeting in the presidential palace, Nazarbaev said the 
reshuffle was needed in order to enforce law and order and maintain public 
security during the current economic crisis.

The changes amounted to more of a rotation than a purge, as the new chief 
prosecutor was formerly head of the supreme court, and the man he replaces, 
Tusupbekov, is now justice minister. The outgoing minister, Zagipa Balieva, 
enters the Senate, the upper house of parliament, where some seats are in the 
president’s gift. None of those moved from their jobs was given a 
dressing-down, as sometimes happens.

Local analysts predict that Nazarbaev is gearing up for bigger changes. 

“Experience shows that as a rule, these focused reshuffles presage a change of 
government,” said Viktor Kovtunovsky of the non-government group Grazhdanskoe 
Obschestvo (Civil Society). 

Apart from anything else, he said, Prime Minister Karim Masimov’s cabinet may 
have overstayed its welcome. Masimov was appointed in January 2007, and prime 
ministers in Kazakstan tend not to last longer than two or three years. 

When his predecessor Danial Akhmetov was removed, he was accused of failing to 
curb inflation, mishandling social programmes and not doing enough to broaden 
the base of an economy that is heavily reliant on oil. Now it may be Masimov’s 
turn to carry the can. 

“Masimov is just unlucky to be heading the government at a time of global 
economic crisis,” said Kovtunovsky, arguing that the government had fallen down 
in a number of areas, including by having to rewrite the budget several times 
as economic forecasts grew increasingly gloomy.

For a long time the government denied Kazakstan was in trouble, but on April 21 
it had to come out with a public acknowledgement of the first signs of 

In the first quarter of this year, the economy contracted by two per cent 
compared with the same period in 2008. That is an alarming reverse on 
January-March 2008, when gross domestic product grew six per cent on the 
previous year. 

Kazakstan’s labour ministry is predicting that 135,000 jobs will be cut this 
year, mostly in banking and construction. 

As the banking sector found itself over-extended with borrowing on 
international markets, it began curtailing its lending from late 2007. One of 
the main knock-on effects was that with loans thin on the ground, the hitherto 
booming construction industry was pulled up short, projects ground to a halt 
and builders began shedding staff.

Last year the building industry slowed to two per cent growth year on year, 
compared with 12 per cent in 2007. Shareholders in numerous unfinished 
apartment blocks have been staging protests in the two biggest cities, Almaty 
and the capital Astana, calling on Masimov’s cabinet to resign. 

The government has in fact taken steps to restore financial stability, bail out 
the building industry and property market, and support small businesses, 
infrastructure projects and agriculture through the crisis period. It has 
launched a rescue programme involving ten billion US dollars taken from the 
National Fund, where money from oil export revenues has been stored against 
just such a rainy day. 

This leads at least one analyst to suggest that the cabinet is coping with the 
crisis rather well. According to Anton Morozov, head of the department for 
social and political research at the Kazakstan Institute for Strategic Studies, 
the president may go no further than the recent reshuffle. 

“If the president’s actions had been related to a crisis in Karim Masimov’s 
government, it would have been logical to expect a reshuffle in the 
economy-related ministries,” he said. 

Morozov foresees no change in government policy, and says all the president was 
trying to do was inject fresh blood into the judicial and law-enforcement 

Whenever personnel changes occur in government, analysts in Kazakstan tend to 
look for signs that the tectonic plates are shifting in the relationship 
between rival elite groups. That is the case with the recent reshuffle of 
judges, prosecutors and ministers. 

“Of course there’s a connection,” said Almaty-based political analyst Dimash 
Aljanov, referring to the power struggles that many believe go on unseen in the 
higher echelons of government. “But it’s hard to say who represents what 

Not everyone would agree that the reshuffle is merely the outward reflection of 
Nazarbaev managing the rivalries between elite groups.

Daniyar Ashimbaev, who edits the almanac Who’s Who in Kazakstan, believes that 
interior minister Baurjan Muhamedjanov and justice minister Balieva had to go 
because they had been widely criticised for failings in their respective areas 
of responsibility.

Elmira Gabidullina is a journalist in Almaty.


Raiders lift livestock as old tradition is amended to suit new reality of 
economic crisis.

By Daniyar Bakhtagaliev in Almaty

Shokan, a farmer from the countryside around Almaty, was out tending his sheep 
recently when three riders trotted up.

“These guys on horseback approached me and asked me to sell them a sheep, but I 
refused,” he said. “Two of them pushed me aside, and the third man grabbed the 
nearest sheep and hoisted it onto his horse. And away they galloped. 

“Where could I have gone to get help? There was no one around. I didn’t even 
resist, as I’ve heard you can get shot.”

Shokan was just another victim of a new breed of crime – or rather an old one, 
revived in a modified form – that is being seen as a direct result of the 
economic downturn in Kazakstan. 

Police say cattle-rustling is rising sharply as the economy slumps, As farmers 
struggle to protect their livestock, some are resorting to armed protection.

The raiders are known as “barymtashy”, after an old custom practiced among the 
Kazak nomads before the Soviet period. Known as “barymta”, it was applied to 
livestock raiding to settle scores in a feud. 

These days, the nomadic lifestyle is long gone and the term is used for 
outright theft. 

“They’ll steal anything – chicken, ducks, turkeys,” said Shokan. “They stole my 
neighbour’s only horse.”

A retired police colonel, who asked not to be named, told IWPR that the 
resurgence in livestock theft was a direct consequence of falling living 
standards and unemployment caused by the economic crisis. 

“People are forced to turn to theft – including of animals – out of a desire to 
provide for their families,” he said. 

The retired police commander explained, “As a general rule the stolen livestock 
is slaughtered out in the steppe, far away from the villages, to make it easier 
to move. The meat is divided up, with one part for the families – the 
barymtashy usually operate in groups of three to four – and the rest sold in 
neighbouring towns.”

The rustlers find traders who will not ask too many questions. “They offer the 
meat cheap at half-price so that retailers won’t ask for documentation [health 
certificates] and the traders close their eyes to its source,” said the 
ex-police officer.

A Kazak interior ministry spokesman, Oleg Ivaschenko, confirmed that livestock 
theft was on the rise, noting that an 11 per cent rise was recorded nationally 
from the beginning of this year to the end of February.

In one western region, Aktobe, the prosecution service reports that in the 
whole of 2008, crimes of this kind showed a 70 per cent increase on the 
previous year. 

Announcing the news on February 3, Aktobe’s deputy regional prosecutor Manarbek 
Saduov said things were likely to get worse. 

“We are predicting an even larger rise in the incidence of livestock theft as a 
result of the global financial crisis,” said Saduov, in remarks quoted by the 
Kazakhstan Today news agency. “The economic slump is causing unemployment, 
which in turn is driving people to steal others’ property and animals.”

Thousands of people across Kazakstan have been put out of work by the closure 
of businesses as banks refuse to lend as freely as before and commercial 
investment falls. 

Shokan was right to be worried that the raiders might be armed, as one recent 
incident showed. According to an April 6 report by the KazTAG news agency, a 
policeman was shot dead while investigating an alleged case of rustling. 

Ivaschenko said police were doing everything they could to counter 
crisis-related crimes, and would target resources on particular “problem areas”.

When arrests are made, the penalties are severe. In March, a court in Karagayly 
in the Karaganda region sentenced four people to prison terms of between five 
and seven years for stealing a herd of 92 horses.

KazTag reported that all the horses had been returned to their owners.

Lieutenant-Colonel Elena Kosharina, a departmental head with the Kostanay 
police force, told IWPR it was important to note that while the incidence of 
cattle theft was increasing, so was the number of cases successfully solved.

She also suggested that in some cases, farmers did not take sufficient care of 
their herds. 

Agriculture ministry spokesman Talgat Makhanov said farmers as well as police 
needed to work to protect their stock, for example ensuring that each animal 
was marked to identify it. 

While noting that the ministry was not monitoring the theft problem, Makhanov 
argued that “this is something farmers themselves have to deal with. Of course 
it’s harder for the small-scale livestock breeders.”

Some villages are beginning to take matters into their own hands, as a farmer 
who lives close to Almaty told IWPR. 

“The residents of many villages are trying to provide their own protection for 
their livestock. The village elders appoint young men as guards and the 
villagers collect money to pay them,” said this man, who did not want to be 

“Now the shepherds won’t go out unarmed. It used to be that you needed a rifle 
to scare off wolves. Now it’s for the barymtachy.” 

Daniyar Bakhtagaliev is a student at the Kazakstan National University in 

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