despite declining job prospects there.  By Nafisa Pisaredjeva in Dushanbe, 
Sairahmon Nazriev in Qurghonteppa, and Bakhtior Valiev in Khujand


suggests most people believe current president won’t face serious challenge.  
By Timur Toktonaliev in Bishkek

TURKMENISTAN: NEW PIPELINE, OLD HORIZONS?  Authorities want capacity to shift 
gas to market from giant field, but many proposed export routes currently look 
less than viable.  By Inga Sikorskaya in Bishkek

with DDT from past decades, experts say.  By IWPR in Central Asia

millions spent on Astana Day festivities came from private sources.  By Irina 
Sevastyanova in Astana and Marik Koshabaev in Almaty

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Many plan to go back to Russia despite declining job prospects there.

By Nafisa Pisaredjeva in Dushanbe, Sairahmon Nazriev in Qurghonteppa, and 
Bakhtior Valiev in Khujand

The global economic crisis has led thousands of Tajiks working in Russia to 
come home, but many say they are determined to go back despite the shortage of 

Up to 1.5 million of the seven million population of Tajikistan work abroad, 
mainly in Russia, and the money they send home is a major source of income for 
households, and is believe to be equivalent to twice the annual government 

In a survey by the Tajik ministry of labour and social welfare among 6,000 
returning migrants, 70 per cent of respondents said they had come back because 
of the economic crisis. A minority – 40 per cent – said they wanted to remain 
in Tajikistan until the Russian crisis eased, and hoped to find jobs in the 
agricultural sector or start their own business. 

When the Dushanbe-based think tank Sharq conducted its own study, it found that 
migration levels from Tajikistan had fallen by 20 per cent, with money 
remittances declining by 35 per cent. 

The Sharq study showed that the people who are still going off to wealthier 
countries like Russia and Kazakstan and are finding jobs there tend to be 
better educated, more experienced and full of initiative, but are also prepared 
to take on any work that comes along and put up with tough conditions. 

Those who are sitting out the crisis back in Tajikistan fall into two 
categories – low-skilled under-24s, and better-off people with more ambition. 


For Tajikistan, with a surplus of labour since Soviet times, migration helped 
solve the unemployment problem especially after the economy was battered by the 
collapse of the Soviet Union and by the civil war of 1992-97. 

The government has tried to counter the effects of global economic crisis and 
shrinking labour markets abroad by creating new jobs at home. 

According to deputy minister of labour and social welfare Subkhon Ashurov, his 
ministry is planning to create 180,000 new jobs in farming and the construction 
industry. Former migrants may also receive plots of land and business training 
to help them get started. Career fairs are being held all over the country, and 
the ministry is planning to create an electronic job vacancy database and to 
work with employers to identify their needs. 

“These measures will provide support to migrants in search of work,” said 

However, returning migrants say that when work is available, it pays much less 
than even low-wage jobs in Russia. 

The Tajik interior ministry has a special department for migration, whose 
offices in Russia have been taking action on behalf of workers whose wages are 
being paid late or not at all. 

Journalist Jamoliddin Saifiddinov says that the government should be doing 
more. “We need to provide favourable conditions for producers, relieve the tax 
burden, and support small businesses. Only through such measures can we can 
provide jobs for our citizens,” he said. 


Interviews which IWPR conducted among returning migrants in four different 
areas, and among Tajiks still working in Moscow, indicate a strong desire to 
return to Russia or remain there because work is so thin on the ground in 

Sodik, 25, from the capital Dushanbe, has been looking for a job for three 
months. “The jobs on offer at the career fairs are usually low paid. That is 
why I go from one building site to another, because people say that wages are 
higher in the construction sector.”

The wages offered at career fairs are usually below 600 somoni (135 US dollars) 
a month, while in Russia Sodik used to get 700 dollars for the same work. After 
several years in Russia, Sodik managed to earn enough money to buy a one-room 
flat in Dushanbe. 

“It’s unbearable working under very difficult conditions when you are far away 
from your family. But we got paid good money and we were able to feed our 
families,” said Sodik. 

Now he is going to wait until the autumn and then go to Russia again, in hope 
that the situation has improved, 

“Russia is a great country. It will find a way out of the crisis, and there 
probably won’t be any problem with jobs this autumn,” he said

Samad, 34, in Khorog, the main town in Badakhshan, a remote high-mountain 
region in southeastern Tajikistan, came home after six years in Russia. But he 
has now given up the hunt for a reasonably well-paid job and will return to 
Yekaterinburg soon.

“Friends said life in Tajikistan had got better, and that there were many 
construction projects going on where one could earn the same wages as in 
Russia,” he said.

He spent two months looking for a job on a building site but found there were 
very few around and the wages offered were extremely low. 

“My family is now living off the money I brought from Russia. I don’t know what 
we’ll do when it runs out,” he said.

According to Nazarbek Mamadnazarov, a lawyer at the Information Centre for 
Labour Migrants in Badakhshan province, out of 27,000 labour migrants from the 
area who annually leave Tajikistan for seasonal jobs abroad, about 1,500 
returned in the first half of 2009. Of them, 200 went abroad again and more 
want to follow them after tasting life at home.

“The jobs on offer in Khorog are usually poorly paid. With prices rising each 
day, migrants are forced to go abroad again just to feed their families,” said 

It is a similar story in the more industrial Sogd province, in northern 
Tajikistan, where a majority of returning migrants cannot find jobs. 

Mother of three Etibor Ataeva in Kanibadam worked for six months in St 
Petersburg as the family breadwinner when her husband had serious health 
problems. Although she trained as a teacher, she took work selling from a kiosk 
and was able to earn enough to provide medication for her husband and feed the 

“Because of the crisis, all of us traders were laid off, and the management 
kept only local staff. The others were fired,” said Etibor. “I’m desperate and 
I don’t know what to do. The job market in Kanibadam is absolutely full ... 
local enterprises are similarly trying to survive the crisis. Some of them have 
closed down, and their staff forced to take leave without pay.”

According to independent expert Firuz Saidov, migrants have been hit by the 
difficult economic situation in Tajikistan, the poorest country in Central Asia 
with around half the population living below the poverty line in 2008. 

Saidov also says that the knock-on effect of the global economic crisis can 
already be felt in Tajikistan – some banks have gone bankrupt, factories have 
closed, prices for key export commodities aluminium and cotton have dropped, 
and migrant remittances have fallen. 

Many jobs in Tajikistan were created as a result of remittances, whose 
contribution to gross domestic product has been estimated at between 30 and 50 
per cent. 

Tajik migrants who have spent several years working in Russia find it hard 
adjusting to wages at home. 

“A migrant can expect a wage of 1,000 dollars, but even if the crisis means he 
gets paid only 300-400 dollars, he wouldn’t get the same pay in Tajikistan,” 
said Saidov. 

Khatlon, a large and mainly agricultural province in southern Tajikistan, is 
the country’s largest exporter of labour to Russia and Kazakstan. 

According to Izatullo Ismoilov, who heads the interior ministry’s migration 
department in Khatlon, 44,000 have returned since September 2008, far more than 
in previous periods. 

The question now is how many of them are going back or plan to do so.

Jurakhon Vohidov, who heads the government employment department in 
Qurghonteppa, a major town in the western part of Khatlon, said most of those 
who returned from Russia with the onset of the economic crisis have already 
left again. 

“We expected to see rising unemployment and fluctuations of the labour market 
but it hasn’t happened, he said. The Qurghonteppa labour market has remained 
stable because many migrants have returned to Russia,” he said. 

According to Khatlon passport department, 140,000 of the region’s 2.6 million 
people are currently abroad. 


At the same time, there are some migrants in Qurghonteppa who do not plan to go 
abroad any more. These are often low-skilled workers who do not speak Russian 
well, and who found it hard to find employment for sustained periods when they 
were abroad before. 

Olim, 38, from the Bokhtar district, worked in Moscow and St. Petersburg for 
five years doing casual work on building sites. He always managed to earn 
enough to send something back to his family. 

However, the crisis made Olim’s hard life even more miserable. 

“I couldn’t find a job for four months. I had to live anywhere I could and went 
hungry at times. Those were the worst months of my life,” he recalled. “I don’t 
want to go back to Russia. Even if I get paid less here, I would like to work 
in Tajikistan.” 

Two months after Olim returned to Tajikistan, he is picking up small repair 
jobs in private homes. 

“There are some Tajiks in Russia who have good jobs, but you wouldn’t change 
places with some of the migrants,” he said. 

Mahmadrahim, also from Bokhtar, said the job situation in Russia was making 
life harder and harder for Tajiks there. Some spend months looking for a job, 
and then cannot afford to come back to Tajikistan because they do not have the 
money for a ticket. 

For those at home, the summer finds them busy in their gardens and allotments, 
planting potatoes, onions, tomatoes and other vegetables to eat or sell. 

“Many of them are going back to Russia again, because it’s impossible to 
survive on what you grow in your vegetable plot,” said Mahmadrahim. 

Tajiks and other migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus face 
discrimination and racist hostility in Russia. Several newspapers in Tajikistan 
launched a campaign of protest against the hostile faced by labour migrants in 
Russia last winter, when 20-year-old Salohiddin Azizov was beheaded by Russian 
nationalists in Moscow. 

Life may be tough in Russia, but many Tajiks are hanging on there, either in 
work or looking for jobs, and hoping that the crisis will end sooner than 
experts predict. 

In a telephone interview with IWPR, Nazar, 25, who lives in Moscow, said he had 
been unemployed for two months but would not be returning to Tajikistan, 
although he had enough money to pay for the trip. 

He estimated that 40 per cent of his Tajik friends in Moscow had lost their 
jobs, but many planned to stay on , especially those who planned to apply for 
permanent residence in Russia.

Nafisa Pisaredjeva, Sairahmon Nazriev, and Bakhtior Valiev are IWPR-trained 
journalists in Tajikistan.



Informal survey suggests most people believe current president won’t face 
serious challenge.

By Timur Toktonaliev in Bishkek

An IWPR straw poll suggests that most voters believe the outcome of the July 23 
presidential election is a foregone conclusion, with incumbent Kurmanbek Bakiev 
likely to beat all five challengers. 

Even the other candidates appear doubtful of their chances of unseating Bakiev 
as he bids for a second term. Some analysts suspect that a number of candidates 
never expected to win, and have other reasons for putting their names forward.

The leading challenger is Almazbek Atambaev, the common candidate of a grouping 
of opposition parties called the United People’s Movement, UPM. 

The others are Temir Sariev, the Ak Shumkar party leader who broke with the UPM 
in order to stand; Toktaim Umetalieva, who heads the Association of 
Non-Commercial and Non-Government Organisations; Jenishbek Nazaraliev, a 
high-profile doctor specialising in treating drug users; and Nurlan Motuev, who 
heads the Joomart Patriotic Movement, is co-leader of the Kyrgyz Muslim Union, 
and defied the authorities by taking control of a coal mine and running it for 
a year in 2006-07, for which he was later tried but not convicted.

Out of 45 people polled by IWPR, 38 predicted that Bakiev would win. 

Many were pessimistic about the election as an exercise in democracy. Fifteen 
said the results would be rigged, and the same number again refused to answer 
the question. 

“People are profoundly uninterested in this election, as they can see 
everything is being done to ensure Bakiev wins,” said one of the respondents, a 
taxi driver. “They are tired of talking about it over and over again.” 

Another respondent said, “Who are we supposed to choose? You know, we’ve have 
had so many elections that now we don’t expect anything from anybody. We’ve 
kind of got used to Bakiev.

This person concluded, “The election will be unfair. I don’t think anyone is in 
any doubt that Bakiev will become president.” 

According to political analyst Mars Sariev, public apathy about politics 
results from belief that nothing will really ever change in Kyrgyz politics. 

“The public perceives the political battle as something that’s unconnected with 
them,” he said. “People are preoccupied with their own problems. Even if 
they’re unhappy, there’s nothing they can do about it. There is also the fear 
factor; people are afraid of the powers that be.” 

In public, each of Bakiev’s rivals is asserting that he or she will win – as 
long as the vote is free and fair, that is. 

Toktaim Umetalieva, the only female candidate, ran against Bakiev first time 
round in July 2005, soon after opposition rallies led to the ousting of then 
president Askar Akaev. 

In that election, she scored the least number of votes of any candidate. This 
time, she is not optimistic. 

“Let’s face it, each of us [except Bakiev] has only a tiny chance of winning. 
You know, we don’t all have the same opportunities,” she told IWPR. 

Temir Sariev says he could win if the election was conducted in an above-board 
manner, but added, “We come across unfair [methods of] competition as we go 
around the regions and meet people.” 

Atambaev’s chances are not rated very highly, even by UPM members. 

“There will be no fair election as long as Bakiev is president,” said Bakyt 
Beshimov, who is heading up the UPM campaign team. “The authorities are using 
administrative resources and manipulation, methods which were tried and tested 
in a previous referendum and parliamentary election.” 

At the same time, Beshimov said the UPM was relying on the good sense of the 

“Our goal is to mobilise people to express their choice on election day,” he 

Political analyst Marat Kazakpayev believes some candidates may be hoping that 
honourable defeat in the contest will raise their profile and lead to them 
being offered a post in the political establishment. 

“For candidates, it will be a huge advantage to come in second or third. They 
will be offered good positions in the power structure,” he said. 

Of the five challengers, only Motuev has indicated that he is not opposed to 
Bakiev even as he runs against him. 

O July 8, he withdrew from a scheduled radio debate with Bakiev due to be aired 
the following day. He told AKIpress news agency that the president had done a 
great deal for Kyrgyzstan in his first term. 

“Our [election] programmes are largely similar, and we don’t have anything to 
argue about,” he said. “We are like allies who have no disagreements between 
them. Moreover, I wouldn’t want to distract him from his duties.”

Some analysts believe the opposition will wait until the election is over and 
then try to stage mass public protests around allegations of ballot-rigging. 

“The situation may escalate right straight after the election, some time in the 
autumn, or else next spring, when current social and economic problems are 
aggravated,” said Mars Sariev. 

At the end of the first week of campaigning, civil society activists also 
appeared pessimistic about the way the election was likely to go. 

A number of non-government organisations had earlier set up a group called the 
Union of Civil Organisations for Voters’ Rights, to monitor the election 
campaign and observe the ballot itselve. 

On June 30, the group held its first press conference where it spoke about the 
alleged procedural violations it had uncovered. 

According to Asiya Sasykbaeva, whose Interbilim organisation is part of the 
monitoring group, it was clear who was going to win from the way things were 

“This is not going to be an election, but rather an appointment,” she said 
during the press conference. 

Timur Toktonaliev is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan.


Authorities want capacity to shift gas to market from giant field, but many 
proposed export routes currently look less than viable.

By Inga Sikorskaya in Bishkek

Plans to build a new gas pipeline linking the resource-rich east of 
Turkmenistan with the west have renewed the debate about the country’s future 
export options.

An official recently said the pipeline would give Turkmenistan the option of 
exporting in any of four separate directions. 

But analysts say logistical and above all political considerations mean 
Turkmenistan is likely to remain dependent on Russia as an export route for 
some time to come, with only China coming in as a significant new purchaser. 

After the Turkmen government put the pipeline construction work out to tender, 
it said more than 70 foreign companies had expressed an interest. The deadline 
for bids was June 27.

Already a major producer of natural gas, Turkmenistan is anticipating a 
substantial rise in output thanks to the South Yolotan-Osman field, where an 
independent British audit published last year described a deposit ranging 
between estimates of four and 14 trillion cubic metres, with a best guess of 
six trillion. RFE/RL quoted an official from Gaffney, Cline and Associates, the 
British firm which conducted the study, as saying the midway figure would make 
South Yolotan-Osman “approximately the fourth or fifth largest gas field in the 

Although the Turkmen authorities have long spoken of plans to hike export 
volumes, the prospect of massive new reserves is now starting to make decisions 
on export routes a priority, experts say. 

At the moment, the vast majority of Turkmen gas exports – some 50 billion cu m 
of total production of 70 billion cu m in 2008 – go to Russia. This uses two 
branches of the Central Asia-Centre, CAC, pipeline network, of which the main 
one runs from eastern parts of the country via Uzbekistan and Kazakstan. A 
western branch of CAC skirts the Caspian Sea, running from western Turkmenistan 
through Kazakstan to Russia. CAC pipeline is owned and operated by Gazprom, the 
Russian giant gas producer and trader.

The other working pipeline runs south to Iran, again from western Turkmenistan, 
with a throughput of around eight billion cu m a year. 

According to an energy analyst based in Turkmenistan, who asked to remain 
anonymous, once gas from South Yolotan arrives in western Turkmenistan via the 
new domestic pipeline, it could go south to Iran, west across the Caspian Sea, 
or north to Russia as is now the case – assuming the pipeline infrastructure is 
in place for some or all these variants. 

One reason for building a pipeline from east to west Turkmenistan could simply 
be to feed the existing Iranian and CAC routes.

However, when Dovlet Atabaev, European mission head of the Turkmen presidential 
agency for energy resources, addressed an energy conference in Paris on May 29, 
he made it clear the intention was to anticipate other export opportunities by 
making it easier to move gas around the country.

“The East-West [pipeline] can provide stability for deliveries of Turkmen gas 
in four directions – Russia, Iran, China and if the TAPI [Trans-Afghanistan 
Pipeline] project is implemented, going through Pakistan and India,” he said.

Foreign ministers from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan signed a 
framework agreement on construction and contractual issues when they met in 
April to discuss the TAPI project. 

Although the agreement speaks of a construction start date of 2010, energy 
experts interviewed by IWPR said that despite huge demand for energy in 
Pakistan and India, the trans-Afghan route looks uncertain, because of the 
continual warfare in that country since the pipeline was conceived in the 
Nineties. That suggests that international financial institutions will be 
reluctant to underwrite such a high-risk venture. 

As for expanding export capacity to Iran, Rovshan Ibrahimov, head of the 
international relations department at Qafqaz University in Baku, says this 
route is less than promising. 

“Iran is not an ideal option for Turkmenistan, as it is viewed as a pariah 
state by the international community,” he said. “Developing relations with such 
a state could have adverse consequences for Turkmenistan.”

In addition, the energy expert in Turkmenistan noted that Ashgabat has had its 
differences with Tehran over gas prices, just as it has with Moscow.

The westward direction of the new internal pipeline leads inevitable to 
speculation about the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline, TCGP, a western-backed route 
which would run on the Caspian Sea floor to Azerbaijan, from where it would 
link up with the proposed Nabucco pipeline, running from Turkey to Austria via 
southeast Europe.

Because it would skirt Russia, Moscow would most likely put pressure on 
regional states not to be part of the TCGP project.

“Implementing this project would require the support of western countries, 
above all the United States,” said Ibrahimov. 

One major objection that the Russians could bring into play is that ownership 
of the Caspian remains under dispute, 17 years after the fall of the Soviet 
Union. Iran, in particular, wants to divide the sea by a different method from 
the one favoured by most of the former Soviet states, as it lays claims to a 
larger slice of the waters, seabed and any oil and gas deposits located there. 

“Russia, Iran and Kazakstan will not agree to any project in the Caspian basin 
without this issue being resolved, and Azerbaijan is very likely to take the 
same position,” said Annadurdy Khadjiev, a Turkmen economist based in Bulgaria.

The Chinese pipeline, which will run east via Uzbekistan and Kazakstan, is 
expected to be ready by the end of this year, with a capacity of 40 billion cu 
m a year. 

The energy based in Turkmenistan said this route offered the most realistic 
alternative to Russia.

“China is a large and fairly wealthy country with the capacity to invest in 
building things like this long [7,000-kilometre] pipeline,” he said.

Beijing has demonstrated its interest in Turkmen gas by announcing plans to 
invest three billion US dollars in South Yolotan-Osman, as Turkmen state media 
reported on June 6.

With many obstacles in the way the other alternatives – with the possible 
exception of the Chinese one – Russia looks set to remain a key player in the 
Turkmen gas export market.

To head off further progress on TCGP negotiations, Moscow has proposed an 
expansion of CAC. To expand capacity, the western branch would be expanded and 
an additional pipeline laid alongside it. 

Plans for Gazprom to acquire exclusive rights to build the new pipeline were 
thrown in doubt when Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov confounded 
expectations by failing to sign an agreement when he visited Moscow in March.

Already arguing about the gas price level for 2009 in a world environment of 
low demand, Moscow and Ashgabat rowed over Gazprom’s decision in April to cut 
the amount of gas coming through CAC. Turkmen officials said the reduced flow 
was the cause of an explosion in the pipeline. 

In a statement on June 1, Gazprom's deputy board chairman Valery Golubev said 
market conditions had changed, and Ukraine – which takes most of the Turkmen 
gas his company buys – had cut its consumption by half.

"Since Europe is no longer buying gas at [earlier high] prices, we... cannot 
sell your gas at your price," said Golubev.

According to some analysts, the dispute has prompted Turkmenistan to focus more 
on alternative routes which would bypass Russia and loosen that country’s grip 
on its gas exports.

“Berdymuhammedov understands that the time has come to weaken Russia’s 
influence,” said Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Endowment, a think-tank in 
Moscow. “Ashgabat’s main act is to put up resistance to Gazprom. There is a 
serious political game going on, with unforeseeable consequences.”

However, others believe that – with the possible exception of the Chinese 
pipeline – talking about alternative routes is by and large a useful way of 
driving a hard bargain with the Russians 

The Turkmenistan-based expert said the ongoing disputes with Moscow did not 
mean the two states were falling out, merely that each was trying to secure the 
best possible terms. 

“If Ashgabat starts taking steps to implement other projects, then Russia won’t 
be able to dictate terms and will become more compliant on prices and on 
compensation for pipeline blasts,” he said.

The analyst said Moscow might win not only the CAC extension contract, but also 
the bid for the internal, east-to-west pipeline.

“One cannot rule that Russia will offer Turkmenistan good terms for building 
the east-west pipeline, offer higher prices for gas than Iran or Turkey, and 
thus maintain its position in the region, and also its influence over the 
Berdymuhamedov administration.”

Malashenko, too, argues that Ashgabat would be wise to avoid alienating Russia 
even if it pursues alternative projects. 

“In any case, if they fall out with anyone [future partners], they will come 
back to Russia,” he said. 

As the Turkmenistan-based energy expert put it, “The game continues.”

Inga Sikorskaya is IWPR editor for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.


Farmland still contaminated with DDT from past decades, experts say.

By IWPR in Central Asia

Experts say agricultural land in northwest Uzbekistan is so permeated with 
pesticides from past decades that it still presents health risks for the 
farmers who work it.

The soil in Khorezm region and the adjacent autonomous republic of 
Karakalpakstan is still full of chlorine and other chemicals from the DDT used 
in cotton production in the Soviet period. 

So intensive was the use of pesticides from the 1940s to the end of the 1960s 
that the Khorezm and Karakalpakstan had 78 aerodromes used by cropspraying 

By the early 1970s, DDT was banned as a general agricultural insecticide in the 
Soviet Union and the United States, and was outlawed by European states over 
the next few years. Some reports suggest the pesticide continued to be used in 
parts of the Soviet Union such as Central Asia.

DDT can remain in the soil for years without breaking down, and given the large 
volumes used in Soviet Uzbekistan, it continues to contaminate farmland.

A scientist in Khorezm says he has data showing that soil contamination by 
chlorine-based pesticides is 30 times the permissible level.

In the mid-Nineties, government environmental scientists in the newly 
independent Uzbekistan conducted surveys which led to action to clean up the 
most polluted areas – chemicals were removed from cropsprayer airstrips and 
chemical storage facilities all over Uzbekistan, and placed in underground 
concrete bunkers. 

However, no action was taken to decontaminate the farmland, such as taking 
fields out of use while the topsoil was removed. 

In 1998, land in Uzbekistan was parcelled out to newly-created private farms 
under a leasehold arrangement rather than outright ownership. The old 
aerodromes were turned into farmland as well. 

A journalist in northwest Uzbekistan, who asked not to be named, said the land 
distribution process was not accompanied by an assessment of soil condition. 

As a result, he said, “Farmers were mostly ignorant of the state the land was 
in and they spread the contaminated topsoil far and wide as they levelled their 

Although cotton continues to be grown on a massive scale as the country’s prime 
export earner, these days private farmers use some of their land to grown fruit 
and vegetables, either to eat or to sell at local markets. 

The presence of DDT presents a dual risk – chemicals in the soil may affect 
farm workers directly, and can also make their way into the produce on sale at 
the market, scientists say. 

“I get a reaction – my arms often itch and I get headaches,” said a farmer in 
the Khiva district of Khorezm. “I don’t spend too much time in the fields.” 

A mother in the nearby Urgench district said her school-age daughter and the 
teachers often told her of cases where pupils showed signs of unexplained 
allergies or headaches in the classroom. 

“They send the children home immediately,” she said. “The school doctors say it 
isn’t good to live near the fields; it’s dangerous.”

Scientists say pesticides containing chlorine increase the risk of allergies, 
digestive tract ailments and premature births. 

A doctor in Nukus, the local capital in Karakalpakstan, said he had noted a 
rise in the incidence of illness among people living close to contaminated 
fields or consuming fruit and vegetables produced on such land.

“We’ve got a serious risk here and there’s a whole range of associated 
illnesses,” he said. “These include anaemia, digestive tract and stomach 
ailments, hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, and immune system and endocrinal 

A scientist at the Al-Khwarezmi university in Urgench said traces of chlorine 
based pesticides had shown up in samples of mothers milk.

In 2006, two local non-government groups, Women for Stable Development and the 
Save the Aral Sea and Amu Darya Alliance, published a report highlighting 
concerns about an underground spring 40 kilometres outside Nukus from which 
people were drawing water. 

The spring was located on a former aerodrome used by cropsprayers, and an 
environmentalist involved in the survey said chemicals were seeping into the 
water source. 

The old airstrips were supposed to have been cleaned up, but volunteer with a 
non-government group in Nukus said when the wind was blowing from that 
direction, the nearby village of Qypchoq was hit by “the acrid smell of 

“People choke, and many children end up in hospital,” he added. 

Despite warnings from doctors and activists, the community here, in what is a 
particularly arid part of Uzbekistan, continues to take water from the spring 
to drink and cook with. 

(The names of interviewees have been withheld out of concern for their 


Officials say most of the millions spent on Astana Day festivities came from 
private sources.

By Irina Sevastyanova in Astana and Marik Koshabaev in Almaty

While many people in Kazakstan were dismayed at lavish spending on celebrating 
their capital city’s birthday earlier this month, government officials insisted 
they were justified in trying to inject a little cheerfulness into the 
depression of an economic slowdown. 

Renowned tenor Placido Domingo joined local and international celebrities as 
Astana celebrated its 11th anniversary as capital. With tickets for Domingo’s 
performance priced at between 500 and 1,000 US dollars, this was clearly not a 
concert for the masses. 

“There is a major effort under way to portray a once forgotten town as a pretty 
important location in the Eurasian steppe where major events can be staged”, 
said political analyst Eduard Poletaev. 

Known variously as Akmolinsk, Tselinograd and Akmola in past years, the city in 
north Kazakstan was renamed Astana to coincide with its designation as 
Kazakstan’s new capital, replacing Almaty in the southeast, which remains the 
main commercial centre.

Some 1.1 billion tenge, or eight million dollars, was spent in the run-up to 
this year’s July 6 anniversary. 

Mayor Imangali Tasmagambetov told a press conference in late June that the city 
authorities provided 120,000,000 tenge for the Astana Day festivities.

“All the rest – more than a billion tenge – is being provided by national 
companies and sponsors,” he said, in remarks quoted by the Gazeta.kz website. 
“One can say the festivities are coming out of non-budgetary funding.” 

Until four years ago, Astana Day was celebrated on June 10, but the date was 
then moved to July 6 to coincide with the birthday of President Nursultan 
Nazarbaev, for whom shifting the capital from Almaty was very much a personal 

Poletaev says questions about the scale of the spending first began being asked 
last year as the global financial crisis started to make itself felt in 

The crisis has had multiple effects on the Kazak economy, from falling oil and 
metals export revenues as global demand contracts, to business closures, frozen 
construction projects, and job losses as the banks rein in their lending after 
borrowing heavily on international markets. 

Gulnur Rahmatullina, who heads the department for economic research at the 
Institute for Strategic Research, expressed worries about the level of 
spending, even though her institute is affiliated with the president’s office. 

“I think it would be possible to do the celebrations more modestly,” she said, 
noting that in recent months the authorities have urged people to make savings 
in this time of economic crisis. 

“Now every family is postponing all major expenditures such as buying a car or 
house, and even home repairs,” she said. 

Kazak finance minister Bolat Jamishev told IWPR there was no contradiction 
between frugal policies and the Astana celebrations, which were in any case “on 
a limited scale”. 

“Life doesn’t stop because of the crisis,” he said. “Everything that’s being 
done is for the residents of Astana”. 

A company manager in Astana who gave his first name as Andrei was among those 
who found it hard to accept such arguments. 

“I don’t honestly understand who this celebration is intended for. I’ve heard 
the authorities have spent enormous amounts of money on it; yet ordinary people 
still can’t go to the [Domingo] concert,” he said. “It is extremely unwise to 
be celebrating Astana Day in this manner when the country is enduring hard 

Another Astana resident who requested anonymity expressed irritation at an 
event that, for most people, was most apparent as disruptions to daily life. 

“There are more policemen than there are people who want to celebrate. Ordinary 
people are constantly being told there’s no access to somewhere. It seems that 
the authorities arrange such festivals for themselves, and to show reverence to 
the president,” she said. 

The minister of economics and budgetary planning, Bakhyt Sultanov, argues that 
the expenditure is justified as a way of showing that Kazakstan is surviving 
the crisis.

“The crisis should not affect the celebration of [Astana] day”, adds Sultanov. 
“We need to see that our capital is developing, come what may.” 

Political analyst Oleg Sidorov agrees that it is unfair to talk about wasting 
money, since it most of the funding consists of private donations. 

“These are fairly big sums of money”, he said. “But we have a very interesting 
situation here as the money did not come out of the government budget…. It’s a 
kind of social responsibility on the part of businessmen. We cannot forbid them 
to donate money for the celebrations, just as we cannot forbid them to take a 
holiday abroad during the crisis.” 

Poletayev predicts that Astana Day will be marked on an even bigger scale in 

“These celebrations are just a dress rehearsal,” he said. “Next year will be 
even more massive, given that Kazakstan will hold the OSCE chairmanship and 
that it will be Nazarbaev’s 70th birthday,” he said. 

Irina Sevastyanova and Marik Koshabaev are IWPR-trained journalists.

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