WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 634, November 25, 2010 TURKMENISTANS CLANNISH LEADER President Berdymuhammedovs court consists of a handful of political survivors but mostly protégés drawn from his tribe. By Aisha Khan
KAZAK CAPITAL IN SHUTDOWN MODE FOR OSCE MEETING Instead of promoting human rights issues, regime accused of tidying them away. By Andrei Grishin CENTRAL ASIAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS SEEK OSCE ACTION Local groups back international calls for new post dedicated to protecting human rights defenders. By Alisher Kholdarov, Kamilla Abdullaeva, Inga Sikorskaya US AND RUSSIA SHOULD NOT COMPETE IN CENTRAL ASIA Symbiosis, not great power rivalry the way forward, leading expert Alexei Malashenko says. By Dina Tokbaeva TURKMENISTAN STAGE-MANAGES MUSLIM PILGRIMAGE Government decides who can perform hajj on the basis of rigorous loyalty checks. By Nazik Ataeva **** NEW ************************************************************************************ LATEST PROJECT REVIEWS: http://iwpr.net/make-an-impact/project-reviews VACANCIES: http://iwpr.net/what-we-do/vacancies **** IWPR RESOURCES ****************************************************************** CENTRAL ASIA PROGRAMME HOME: http://www.iwpr.net/programme/central-asia CENTRAL ASIA RADIO: http://iwpr.net/programme/central-asia/central-asia-radio NEWS BRIEFING CENTRAL ASIA: http://iwpr.net/programme/news-briefing-central-asia CENTRAL ASIA HUMAN RIGHTS: http://iwpr.net/programme/central-asia-human-rights-reporting-project STORY BEHIND THE STORY: http://iwpr.net/report-news/the-story-behind-the-story BECOME A FAN OF IWPR ON FACEBOOK http://facebook.com/InstituteforWarandPeaceReporting FOLLOW US ON TWITTER http://twitter.com/iwpr **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** RSS FEEDS: http://iwpr.net/syndication/builder DONATE TO IWPR: http://iwpr.net/donate **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** TURKMENISTANS CLANNISH LEADER President Berdymuhammedovs court consists of a handful of political survivors but mostly protégés drawn from his tribe. By Aisha Khan President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedovs policy of appointing kinsmen and people from his home area to positions of power risks alienating other important groupings, commentators say. In a country as closed as Turkmenistan, political connections and spheres of influence are hard to identify. IWPR interviews with experts inside and outside the country indicate that Berdymuhammedov governs via the same kind of hierarchical network as his predecessor, the late Saparmurat Niazov, albeit with significant differences in the people he chooses to have around him. Berdymuhammedov was elected in 2007 after a precipitate rise to power. When Niazov, who styled himself Turkmenbashi Leader of the Turkmen and was the centre of a Stalinist personality cult, died suddenly in December 2006, there was no obvious successor. But within days, an inner circle had cleared the way for Berdymuhammedov so that he was not only acting head of state but was eligible to run for the presidency. After his election, Berdymuhammedov promised a break with the past improvements to health and education, both areas where Niazov had made damaging cutbacks and even hinted at political liberalisation. However, the move towards democratic governance and respect for human rights never came, perhaps because Berdymuhammedov himself was a product of the Niazov system and depended on its hierarchical structure and its ability to eliminate dissent for his survival. If he did not institute root-and-branch reforms, he did make structural changes such as abolishing the cumbersome Khalk Maslakhaty, a national congress that in theory had supra-parliamentary powers but in reality served merely as a rubber stamp. Berdymuhammedov rapidly set about removing Niazov-era officials from positions of power, so that most top figures have now been replaced except for a handful of significant figures. Even Akmurat Rejepov, the powerful head of the presidential security service believed to have been instrumental in engineering Berdymuhammedovs ascent to power, was sacked and then put in prison in 2007. In their place, the new leader appointed people who owed loyalty to him, not Niazov. As an orphan, Niazov had no close relatives to place around him. Berdymuhammedov, who does, has nevertheless followed the same path and has not placed many immediate family members in senior positions, unlike some other Central Asian leaders. One of the most visible of his identifiable relatives is a brother-in-law, Dovlet Atabaev, who heads a presidential agency overseeing the control and use of oil and gas resources. Others operate under the radar, for example relatives who are widely believed to be expanding their control over businesses including cafes, restaurants, internet cafes and shopping centres. Instead of immediate relatives, Berdymuhammedov selects members of the Teke, the Turkmen tribe to which he belongs, to fill important and even not-so-important posts. Almost all come from south-central Ahal region, where the capital Ashgabat is located. A commentator in the capital Ashgabat was able to reel off a long list of ministers, past and present, from this background. Theres no question of any clans having any influence these days except for the Teke. They control everything, the commentator said. The Turkmen traditionally divide into several large and many smaller tribal groupings, each based in a different part of what is now Turkmenistan. The Teke of the south-central Ahal region were important throughout the Soviet period. Two other important but politically marginalised tribes are the Yomud in the west, in areas close to the Caspian Sea; and the Ersari who live in eastern areas adjoining Uzbekistan. The Teke tribe is also dominant in the southeastern Mary region, but this branch is sidelined from power despite sitting on major natural gas reserves. Approximately 70 to 75 per cent of the top posts in government, in the presidential council and other institutions are held by people from Ahal region, another local observer said. Berdymuhammedov tries to back only his own Teke, the ones from Ahal, which makes the Teke of Mary unhappy. Furthermore, he said, Berdymuhammedov was placing his own people even in other regions where their Teke tribe is not dominant. He described this process as Ahal-isation. Niazov too came from Ahal region, and favoured Teke tribe members from there. So Berdymuhammedovs policy does not represent a break with the past, just the systematic removal of his predecessors allies and protégés. A university lecturer in Turkmenistan teacher expressed concern that giving preference to a such closed network, Berdymuhammedov could alienate other important groups. Berdymuhammedov is following the path pursued by the former Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiev, and getting more and more drawn into clan affairs, he said, referring to allegations by Bakievs opponents that he dispensed senior positions and business opportunities to family members. Bakiev was deposed following popular unrest in April. He is digging himself into a hole when he makes some appointment and shows a preference for his local Teke tribe, and specifically [those from] the areas he comes from, and when he offers patronage to his numerous family members. People will tolerate this, but theyre whispering about it, memorising all the details and telling one another. The rumours are proliferating, and sprouting ever more additional detail. None of that can bring any good. For the moment, the lecturer said, Its a good thing the other tribes are not showing their irritation openly, but how long that can last? A Turkmen historian, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he disagreed that tribal rivalries were the main threat to Berdymuhammedov. Instead, he said, the main danger would be if the president crossed swords with an inner circle of political figures who have remained in place since Niazovs time. Analysts name a group of three figures led by presidential aide Viktor Khramov, the others being Vladimir Umnov, also a presidential aide, and Alexander Zhadan, deputy head of the presidential administration. They are of Russian rather than Turkmen background. A former diplomat said the three helped mastermind the transition of power after Niazovs death, and remained powerful figures behind the scenes. An Ashgabat-based analyst said it was Khramov, above all, who pulled the strings, but that he preferred to stay out of sight. He has personal oversight over the oil and gas sector. With the help of Zhadan and Umnov, he also controls other important areas such as ideology, the media, international relations and education, the analyst said. A journalist who left Turkmenistan recently and moved to Russia said Khramov played a key role in defining the Turkmen states ideological direction and the limits to press freedom, acting as the regimes de facto chief censor. He said Khramov began wielding serious political influence when the late Niazov was in power. He was the eminence grise under former president Niazov and has continued this under the current president Berdymuhammedov, he said. Asked why Khramov did not make a bid for power himself given that he was so influential, the former diplomat explained that as an ethnic Russian, he was not eligible to run for presidential office, for which only Turkmen are eligible. He added that Khramov enjoyed the benefits of unrestricted power without being exposed to public scrutiny. As hes doing this unofficially and with no unnecessary publicity, he doesnt have to take responsibility, he said. Some analysts, like a former top official interviewed by IWPR, said the three men could attribute their political longevity to backing from Moscow, which nurtures good relations with these Russians so as to secure its position in the natural gas market. Russia has historically been the major purchaser of gas from Turkmenistans vast reserves, and is resistant to schemes that would all the Central Asian state to export gas to Europe without going through its pipeline network. One area where Moscow has been unable to exert influence is in assisting Russians in Turkmenistan who are sidelined from many educational and employment opportunities because of the governments Turkmen nationalist policies. They are under constant pressure to renounce the dual Turkmen-Russian citizenship many took out in the Nineties, and have seen the influence of Russian language and culture wane. The former top official said members of the Khramov-led group had little interest in improving the lives of ordinary Russians living in Turkmenistan, and cared only about their own political survival. Aisha Khan is the pseudonym for an IWPR trainee journalist. Additional reporting by Inga Sikorskaya, IWPRs editor for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. KAZAK CAPITAL IN SHUTDOWN MODE FOR OSCE MEETING Instead of promoting human rights issues, regime accused of tidying them away. By Andrei Grishin Kazakstans efforts to present a positive image at the forthcoming summit of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE are more show than substance, critics say. Human rights activists say that not only has the Kazak government failed to use its time as OSCE chair to promote civil liberties, it has prepared for the event by cracking down on people identified as potential troublemakers. This years OSCE summit takes place in the Kazak capital Astana on December 1-2, and represents the culminating moment of the Central Asian states year in the rotating chairmanship of a grouping that promotes security, human rights, democracy and rule of law among its 56 member states. Ahead of the summit, the OSCE is holding the third phase of its review conference on November 26-28, also in Almaty. For President [Nursultan] Nazarbaev, hosting the summit is a matter of prestige and an acknowledgement [of his role] as a regional peacemaker, Aynur Kurmanov, a civil society activist who addressed the European Parliaments subcommittee on human rights in Brussels last month. Kurmanov, who heads the socialist movements Talmas and Kazakstan-2012, said the countrys leaders were clearly hoping the Astana summit would create a positive image and thus attract foreign investment in its natural resources sectors. He argues that the prospect of hosting such an event has led the authorities to put more pressure on its critics than usual. Its a policy that has been conducted previously, but the summit seems to have become a kind of catalyst, he said. He is not alone in this view. Vyacheslav Abramov, the deputy director of Freedom House Kazakstan, said the authorities seemed intent on heading off any visible or suspected threats so that the OSCE meeting would run smoothly. Trade unionists say they have been singled out, presumably to avoid the embarrassment of industrial action coinciding with the summit. Local government and the law-enforcement agencies have received orders from above not to allow any protests to take place on the ground, Ivan Bulgakov, leader of the Labour Protection trade union association. Theyre operating on the principle that its better to be over-vigilant than not vigilant enough. In October, a group of coalminers from Karaganda who were retired because of work-related injuries were prevented from staging a protest in Astana to demand better legislation for disabled workers. Earlier the same month, trade union activist Igor Kolov from Kostanay, was held for three days on charges of hooliganism. Tahir Muhamedzyanov, deputy head of the Miners Family association, said various members of his group had been pressured because their activities were unpopular with the authorities, and especially because they were located close to Astana. Muhamedyzanovs car blew un in an unexplained explosion in October, and police later tried to lock him up in a psychiatric ward. In September, three activists from an independent oil workers union at Janaozen in the western Mangyshlak region, were detained by police after attending a meeting of Kurmanovs Kazakstan 2012 group in Almaty, the second city. Political analyst Dosym Satpaev said it was common for regime opponents to be charged with non-political offences like disorderly behaviour or tax evasion. This is to avoid suspicions that theres a connection with the political or public activities of those who are detained, he said. The spotlight is on the capital, in particular, where the authorities appear keen to tidy away anything politically troublesome or just unsightly. Participants in the Decent Housing campaign, which brings together people who have lost money in housing investments or are struggling to repay mortgages, say they have been refused permission to stage a demonstration outside the OSCE meeting. Since mid-October, police in Astana have been gathering up the citys homeless, conducting ID checks and removing some to other cities like Karaganda and Pavlodar. Recently-released convicts are also being paid visits. The Astana mayors spokesperson Aygul Aspandiarova told IWPR that the homeless were being dealt with in their own bests interests. We search for them, clean them up and bring them back to their old families, she said, if you regard that as a violation of human rights and liberties. Around 7,000 police will be deployed in the capital during the OSCE event, more than half of them drafted in from other regions. Police are stopping and checking all cars that do not have Astana number plates, and drivers of such vehicles report difficulties in entering the city. The restrictions are already in place although the deputy head of Kazakstans traffic police, Kabyljan Maytybaev, said they would only come into force on November 29. Travellers have also been warned that local flights to Astana airport will be cancelled because of the expected volume of air traffic. In a posting on his official blog, Astanas mayor Imangali Tasmagambetov has said residents of areas near the summit venue are being issued with special permits to ensure that outsiders stay away. Finally, schools in the capital are being given a week off to reduce traffic. A spokesman for Kazakstans foreign ministry, who asked not to be named, told IWPR, This is a key event for Kazakstan in every respect, but all these preparatory measures are technical issues. Andrei Grishin is a staff member at the Kazakstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law. This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. CENTRAL ASIAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS SEEK OSCE ACTION Local groups back international calls for new post dedicated to protecting human rights defenders. By Alisher Kholdarov, Kamilla Abdullaeva, Inga Sikorskaya Central Asian human rights defenders have welcomed attempts by international watchdog groups to make human rights a priority at a forthcoming OSCE summit in the Kazak capital Astana. In particular, they are keen on a proposal for the OSCE to introduce a special post responsible for protecting human rights activists. At the same time, human rights defenders interviewed by IWPR doubted the initiative would be successful, given regional governments policy of silencing critics and the fact that the OSCE chair is currently held by Kazakstan, which itself has a questionable human rights record. An appeal to prioritise human rights at the December 1-2 OSCE summit was issued jointly by the International Partnership for Human Rights based in Brussels, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, the Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders, the Moscow Helsinki Group, the Netherlands Helsinki Committee, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, during a Human Dimension Implementation Meeting hosted by the OSCEs Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ODIHR, in the Polish capital Warsaw between September 30 and October 8. The statement contained specific recommendations addressed to each of the five Central Asian governments and said the OSCE summit should produce concrete measures to enhance protections for human rights defenders who are at at risk in the region. These included creating the new post of OSCE special representative for human rights defenders, developing the organisations ability to step in and offer swift assistance to activists under threat, and greater cooperation among member states to promote the independence of judges, prosecutors and police. The joint statement highlighted the challenges facing human rights defenders across Central Asia by citing a number of specific cases. In November 2009, for example, Ganikhon Mamatkhanov, a human rights defender in Fergana in eastern Uzbekistan was sentenced to five years in prison for bribery and fraud. Criminal charges of this kind are routinely used to smear and convict rights activists. Mamatkhanovs real crime is more likely to have been his work to promote the rights of farmers. Surat Ikramov, leader of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders in Uzbekistan, was accused of libel, and duly lost the court case in September. (See IWPR report Uzbek Human Rights Activist Loses Libel Case.) Government pressure in Turkmenistan has forced most civil society groups there out of existence. Of the handful who remain, environmental activist Andrey Zatoka was expelled from the country in November 2009. In Tajikistan, lawyer Solijon Juraev was charged with defamation in February for remarks he is alleged to have made about members of the judiciary. (See Tajik Prosecutors Take On Courts.) Similar questions about political interference in trials were raised when Yevgeny Zhovtis, head of the Kazakstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, was jailed last year for causing a death in a traffic accident. (Kazakstan: Jailing of Rights Activist Condemned. ). Human rights defenders who reported on the widespread ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan this June found themselves accused of spreading false information and even promoting the disturbances. In September, Azimjan Askarov, director of the Jalalabad-based human rights group Vozdukh was given a life sentence for alleged participation in the unrest. Once again, his colleagues in the human rights community say he was punished for trying to uncover abuses. Tolekan Ismailova, head of the Citizens Against Corruption, left Kyrgyzstan in July after receiving death threats following her reporting on abuses committed during the ethnic violence. Human rights activists in Central Asia said the international effort to push OSCE members to do more to support them could be helpful, although real change would have to come from within the five states, with the growth of strong civil societies, independent ombudsmen, free media and independent judiciaries. They said international organisations like the OSCE could exert influence by directly supporting local rights groups or pressuring regional governments when cases of persecution arose. They were generally supportive of their international colleagues call for a special OSCE representative to address and visibly raise issues relative to the situation of human rights defenders. ODIHR already has a Focal Point for Human Rights Defenders and National Human Rights Institutions, but the proposed post would mean a senior official was dedicated to this key area. A human rights activist from Uzbekistan said the proposed post would hold out the hope of swift action whenever individuals were targeted. The lack of a special representative [to date] means that rights activists are thrown on their own resources, which are generally limited, he said. Abdumalik Sharipov, programme coordinator of the human rights group Spravedlost based in Jalalabad, Kyrgyzstan, was similarly positive about the proposed post. We have become more vulnerable, he said, adding that it was not human rights activists who were at risk because of their activities, but their family members too. I think the time has come for international donors to tie their assistance to countries in this region to human rights. Ikramov said a human rights special representative should focus attention on those OSCE members where the situation was worst. In advanced countries which have established democratic procedures, rights activists dont face major risks, whereas in Central Asia, particularly in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and more recently Kyrgyzstan, the risks are obvious, he said. Another area where the international community could usefully be active, Ikramov said, was in supporting and funding human rights groups that have been refused registration by the authorities. The position that international organisations cannot support unregistered NGOs must be changed, he said. Farid Tukhbatullin, head of the Vienna-based Turkmen Human Rights Initiative, was among those who remained sceptical that the statement would lead to anything, even if it got as far as being aired at the OSCE summit. The OSCE doesnt have any mechanisms to force its members to honour the obligations they have undertaken, he said. An official at the Kazak foreign ministry, who did not want to be named, agreed that the chances of creating a special post to protect human rights defenders within the OSCE were slim. But he said this was not because Kazakstan as chairman would block it. The complicated procedure for taking decisions within the OSCE offers little hope of a positive outcome in the foreseeable future, he said. Noting that all 56 OSCE member would have to vote in favour of the new post, he said, The Turkmen and Uzbek foreign ministries will put forward their standard argument that there are enough European human rights institutions already, and that it makes no sense to set up a separate post. Alisher Kholdarov and Kamilla Abdullaeva are pseudonyms for journalists from Uzbekistan. Inga Sikorskaya is IWPR senior editor for Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. US AND RUSSIA SHOULD NOT COMPETE IN CENTRAL ASIA Symbiosis, not great power rivalry the way forward, leading expert Alexei Malashenko says. By Dina Tokbaeva Leading Central Asia expert Alexei Malashenko says that if major external powers like Russia and the United States cooperate rather than compete on security issues in the region, everyone will win. Malashenko, a specialist on Central Asian politics and political Islam at the Carnegie Centre in Moscow, discussed the prospects for Kyrgyzstan and the wider region in an interview for IWPR while he was in the capital Bishkek on November 3. He was attending a round-table debate hosted jointly by IWPR and the Institute for Public Policy in Bishkek. IWPR began by asking him what Moscow wanted from Kyrgyzstan, given the upsurge in speculation about Russias role on the political scene there. Alexei Malashenko: Russia has yet to clearly formulate what its national interests are along the perimeter of its frontiers, including its relationship with NATO. Of course, attempts to define them are being made. This applies equally to Central Asia. Central Asia is part of the former Soviet expanse, theres a Russian military base here [at Kant airport, near Bishkek], many politicians express pro-Russian views, and theres a fairly substantial Russian-speaking population. If Russia backs stability here, then its influence in the region will automatically increase. Thus far, Russia has tried to play the role of mediator on some contentious issues, for example water. That hasnt always been a success. Given that Russia wields substantial influence in Kyrgyzstan, and assuming the new prime minister is pro-Russian, thats going to be very important for Russia Kyrgyzstan will be a country where it feels comfortable. Kyrgyzstan represents a very good strategic platform for Russia. So we can talk about common national interests. Relations with Russia are undoubtedly important to Kyrgyzstan, too. The media in Kyrgyzstan have even described Russia as the main focus for Kyrgyz politics. That may be true, but nevertheless, Kyrgyzstan is pursuing a multi-vector policy, which features the American factor as well as Kazakstan and China. If this trend continues, [Russian-Kyrgyz] relations will strengthen. And it goes without saying that its not at all to Kyrgyzstans advantage to be in conflict in Russia. IWPR: To what extent can we talk about a Great Game, the model used in the western media, with regard to the transit hub [US air base for supplies to Afghanistan] at Manas airport? Or are things a lot more complex than that? Malashenko: This isnt a game. Its an attempt to somehow rethink current relationships. Its an attempt by the Russians to assert Russian interests to the Americans, and by the Americans to see whether Russia can be an effective partner for establishing stability in Central Asia. Its too simplistic to talk about competition just because theres the Manas base here and Kant there. First, Russia and the US are, after all, states of differing magnitudes. Second, Russia is not fighting in Afghanistan. And third, relationships in Central Asia fit into the broader context of American-Russian relations which cover NATO, the Caucasus and so on. In other words, its wrong to view trends here in isolation. At the moment, the Central Asian region is a kind of common area of cooperation, thanks to Afghanistan. Of course both sides have ambitions. And the Americans arent planning to move out of somewhere theyve moved into. Whatever one calls Manas, the main point is that its American planes sitting there. IWPR: Whats the reason for Russias current enthusiasm for cooperating with NATO on Afghanistan, and what does that mean for Central Asia? Malashenko: To answer that, we will need to know whos going to head the US Senate Committee for Foreign Affairs after the Congressional elections; whether it will be [John] McCain or someone else. A lot will hang on that. Im not going to comment yet on how the Americans are going to behave and how Russia will react to this. Russian policy is entirely reactive. There is, incidentally, a risk that relations will deteriorate over Georgia, and this would have an immediate impact in Central Asia, since its all interconnected. As for the fact that Russia is now cooperating with NATO thats normal. The story of the joint US-Russian anti-narcotics operation [in Afghanistan in October] is interesting. The head of the Russian federal counternarcotics service Viktor Ivanov was there in the spring and was well received. But it looks like Afghan president Hamid Karzai was offended that he was not apprised of the operation; that they didnt trust him. There have also been reports in Russia that Russian military instructors might return. That looks unlikely, but they are writing about it it. Theres no doubt that Afghanistan is keeping an eye on what Russia does. IWPR: How great is the threat posed to Central Asia by the Taleban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan [IMU] at the moment? Malashenko: There will be a threat if the Taleban become part of the ruling coalition in Afghanistan. If the Americans and Russians agree to this happening, questions then arise as to what this means for the Islamic opposition in Uzbekistan. After all, the Islamic radicals there also talk about social justice and corruption, and they have the same ideology. With regard to the IMU: first of all, it does exist, although its unclear in what numbers. Its fighters are armed and are trained. The IMU enjoys external support, in the shape of funding and training camps. Its combatants include Arabs and people from the North Caucasus and Uzbekistan; its a quasi-international movement. They might play some role in the event of conflict situation in Uzbekistan. The same would be true of Kyrgyzstan, if it experienced something worse than what happened this year [mass ethnic violence in June]. Its a real armed force which claims it is fighting for justice. So its potentially a very important factor. And theres also [the banned Islamic group] Hizb ut-Tahrir. IWPR: Who or what do you think was behind events in the Rasht valley [clashes between government troops and militants in eastern Tajikistan]? Malashenko: In Tajikistan, it is a mishmash of things problems to do with the Islamic opposition, relations between the regions, the family [of President Imomali Rahmon], and political Islam. The Islamic Rebirth Party was the main force behind the United Tajik Opposition [in the 1992-97 civil war], but its been sidelined. As the situation deteriorates, its becoming more active, criticising the authorities and demand a role in decision-making. But it is loyal to the regime; it consists of Islamic reformers. There is also Hizb ut-Tahrir and once again the IMU. Islam thus occupies a political space in Tajikistan. Add to that the general trend for Tajik society to become more Islamic and more archaic, and the immense number of mosques and madrassas, and the conditions for an upsurge in Islam do exist. And Afghanistan is just over the [frontier] river. The Russian base [in Tajikistan] is thus a real factor for stability. IWPR: Is it possible that Tajikistan could see a repeat of the kind of events that led to regime change in Kyrgyzstan? Malashenko: If this happened, it would mean another civil war. But people are still worn out by that [first civil] war. After the conflict ended, I remember how people were proud of [small things like] having the traffic lights working again. Would a mother whose son was ten when the conflict ended send him, now aged 20-plus, to war? IWPR: Theres often been talk of closing down the Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan. Is that just speculation by politicians to curry favour with Russia, or is it a realistic demand? Malashenko: First of all, the reason the Manas base is there is the conflict in Afghanistan. It will remain there as long as [conflict in] Afghanistan goes on. The planes will stay - both the US and Russia need them. Secondly, supposing there is speculation in Kyrgyzstan about closing the Manas base. The Americans can do without it if they have to. They can shift the base to Turkey, although that would be more expensive. No one would win. The Manas-Kant pairing is truly pragmatic it is a symbol of [US-Russian] proximity, and its to Kyrgyzstans advantage as well. There could be another scenario where the Americans shift to Uzbekistan, and set up a large version of Khanabad [US air base until 2005]. An American base there would be permanent. Russia thus has no interest in driving out the [US base]. No serious politician in Kyrgyzstan is going to tell the Americans to remove the base. Dina Tokbaeva is IWPRs editor for Kyrgyzstan. This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. TURKMENISTAN STAGE-MANAGES MUSLIM PILGRIMAGE Government decides who can perform hajj on the basis of rigorous loyalty checks. By Nazik Ataeva In line with the tight controls it exerts over religious observance, Turkmenistans government is allowing only a tiny number of people to perform the hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca this year. The lucky few will be hand-picked and carefully vetted by the security services, although some Muslims will find ways of going on the pilgrimage by other routes. Typically, the October 14 decree approving the number of pilgrims was issued not by the Islamic authorities, but by the president of this secular state, Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov. Deputy Prime Minister Khydyr Saparliev was put in charge of making the arrangements, while the national carrier Turkmen Hava Yollari was told to provide a charter plane free of charge. The number of seats on the plane appears to have decided the number of pilgrims 188. Allowing the pilgrims to travel at all is a welcome improvement on last year, when no one was allowed to go, officially because the authorities were concerned about the risk of swine flu contagion. But the number is miniscule compared with the number this majority Sunni Muslim nation could be sending. The Saudi Arabian authorities calculate a quota for each country, which works out at one pilgrim for every 1,000 Muslims there. Kyrgyzstan, whose total population of 5.5 million is comparable to Turkmenistans five million, is sending 4,500 people on the hajj this year. The annual hajj takes place during the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, and this year it is set for November 14-17. The pilgrimage counts as one of the five basic obligations of Muslims, and for many it will be a once-in-a-lifetime trip. In Turkmenistan, the state takes a close interest in personal belief, and controls mosques through an officially-sanctioned Muslim clerical hierarchy. Religious education is also tightly controlled, and working clerics must have been trained in Turkmenistan rather than abroad. The presidential administration has a Council for Religious Affairs, which is selecting this years hajj participants. The religious rights watchdog Forum 18 reports that applicants have to submit documents to the councils regional branches before the central body will consider them. Past practice suggests the party of pilgrims will be accompanied by security service officers who will monitor their activities. The authorities fear that devout Muslims, particularly those who have had a religious education in Turkey or Pakistan, could significantly increase the influence they can exert and acquire more followers if they perform the pilgrimage to Mecca, a local activist who works on freedom of confession issues said. Local observers say political loyalty is just as important as the strength of ones religious feelings. Anyone suspected of having connections with the opposition in exile or civil society groups, or even being related to someone who has, will be automatically struck off the list of hajj applicants. The same applies to members of the small Shia Muslim minority, not because they are particularly active, but just because they are different. We have applied to take part in the pilgrimage on several occasions and have been turned down every time, said a Shia from the capital Ashgabat who gave his name as Ali. The Turkmen authorities select people who are loyal to the government, who are of the Sunni branch, and who hold moderate religious views. Anyone deviating from the norm Shia Muslims, or anyone who is particularly devout and is being monitored by the National Security Ministry will be stopped at the border controls and quite simply prevented from leaving the country. Ali is planning to travel to Saudi Arabia independently, although this is not encouraged by the Turkmen authorities. Local observers say the Saudi embassy in Ashgabat is reluctant to issue visas to independent pilgrims because it does not want to annoy the government. Forum 18 cited one Ashgabat resident who was turned down by the embassy and told that visas would only be issued to people on the government-approved list. Others find ways of going on the hajj by travelling to Turkey on a business trip, and then travelling on to Saudi Arabia. An interviewee who performed the pilgrimage in this manner last year said that on arrival in Saudi Arabia, there were no obstacles to entry to Turkmen passport-holders precisely because their country had used up so little of its hajj quota. Nazik Ataeva is the pseudonym of a journalist in Turkmenistan. **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local journalists, the service publishes news and analysis from across Central Asia on a weekly basis. The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty, Bishkek, Tashkent and London, which supports media development and encourages better local and international understanding of the region. 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