WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 369, January 17, 2011 DEEP RIFTS REMAIN IN CONFLICT-TORN KYRGYZ SOUTH Rebuilding and reconciliation efforts slow to take off as tensions persist. By Anara Yusupova, Isomiddin Ahmedjanov
KAZAK PARLIAMENT TO RULE ON EXTENDING PRESIDENTS TERM Referendum allowing President Nazarbaev to stay on without election would be bad for democracy, critics say. By Mirlan Telebarisov, Andrei Grishin TURKMEN AUTHORITIES PLAY DOWN HIV/AIDS Hard-to-credit official figures suggest infection rates are close to zero. By IWPR Central Asia TOUGH TIMES AHEAD FOR KYRGYZ COALITION Survival of new government depends on party leaders keeping differences in check. By Emir Kulov, Dina Tokbaeva **** 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/ ********************************************************** DEEP RIFTS REMAIN IN CONFLICT-TORN KYRGYZ SOUTH Rebuilding and reconciliation efforts slow to take off as tensions persist. By Anara Yusupova, Isomiddin Ahmedjanov The wounds caused by last years ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan are still open, with mistrust between divided communities running deep, and local people worried for their security and their long-term future. As the findings of a lengthy investigation into why the conflict happened began emerging, IWPR asked southern residents of various ethnicities, as well as political and economic experts in Kyrgyzstan, to give their view of how things stand just over six months after violence, looting and burning that left over 400 people dead over several days. The perception of continuing instability and the slow pace of economic recovery in and around the cities of Osh and Jalalabad are prompting a steady exodus that includes many ethnic Uzbeks but also Kyrgyz who feel their skills and education would be better applied elsewhere. The crisis has thus exacerbated the high rates of unemployment and out-migration from southern Kyrgyzstan, and the departure of many of the most capable is likely to de-skill the local population. A special commission has been probing the causes and consequences of the June 2010 violence, but its findings presented by its chairman Abdygany Erkebaev on January 11 have come under fire from some non-government groups who say they are neither as thorough and even-handed as they had hoped. In terms of bare facts, Erkebaev said 426 deaths had been verified, although the identities of only 381 individuals had been established. Of these, 276 were Uzbeks and 105 Kyrgyz. Another 2,200 people sustained injuries, while the economic damage caused by arson and looting was calculated at over 85 million US dollars. According to Erkebaev, the commission laid most of the blame for starting the violence on Qodirjon Batirov, a businessman and a leading light in the Uzbek community, and on relatives of deposed president Kurmanbek Bakiev, who was forced out of office by popular unrest in April last year. Others implicated included organised crime groups, drug traffickers, religious extremists and unnamed third forces from outside the country. The commission accused the interim administration that replaced Bakiev and the provincial and local authorities in the south for ignoring the signs of impending trouble. Parts of the security forces failed to prevent weapons being seized for use in the violence, it said. When the full text of the report becomes available on January 17, it is likely to create some controversy if it takes the same approach as Erkebaevs description of its contents. One of the investigative commissions members, lawyer Nurbek Toktakunov, has already distanced himself from the report and refused to sign it, saying it was superficial and failed to address the handling of post-violence judicial proceedings. "If our commission had expressed a view on the reports of torture and [other] violations of criminal-law procedures, the public could have come to hope that things might be different," he said. Toktakunov earlier served as defence lawyer for Azimjon Askarov, a human rights activist of Uzbek background who has been given a life sentence on charges of inciting disturbances. An alternative report produced by the Osh Initiative, a coalition of Uzbek and Kyrgyz rights activists, indicated that ethnic Uzbeks were systematically targeted in attacks, and were then turned into the culprits through prosecutions primarily directed at them. Southern Uzbeks interviewed prior to Erkebaevs remarks said they felt let down by central government, which had failed to protect them, and by local authorities who appeared to give tacit approval for portraying the Uzbek community as disproportionately responsible for the conflict, despite it bearing the brunt of the violence. For both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south, the trauma and economic slump created by the 2010 violence are still a reality. Official statistics indicate that over 37,000 people left the area via Osh area in the first three months after the clashes, but as political analyst Ikbol Mirsaitov points out, that figure does not capture the total number. He estimates that more than half of those who left were Uzbeks, most of them leaving Kyrgyzstan for places like Russia. Kyrgyz, too, were moving out, but often to the north of the country, where the capital Bishkek is located. Inter-communal tensions remain, and people interviewed by IWPR said the sense of separation was feeding mistrust and suspicion, and was one of the factors holding back economic recovery. An Uzbek businessman who used to have a café in Osh told IWPR he was now back in the city, but only for as long as it took to settle his affairs before he left for Russia for ever. He described what made him leave in a hurry. "Several days after I reopened my business in August, in the wake of the conflict, several criminals came to see me. They threatened with a pistol and demanded that I hand over the café to them, he said, adding that they insulted him with ethnic slurs. I got out the same day with my wife and three children, I packed and left for Russia, where we have relatives." A builder from Osh who gave his name as Abdumalik said he was finding it harder and harder to maintain his family both because there was less commercial activity and because he was no longer able to travel freely to take jobs. I cant work outside the district where I live. I fear for my life and safety, he said. Sometimes I just want to give it all up and head off to Russia. A truck driver called Hikmatillo, also from Osh, expressed similar concerns. "Ever since June, many people have been living in fear of a repeat of the conflict . Some [Uzbeks] are selling their family homes, he said. People are saying that when spring comes, another contingent will leave. Marat Nuraliev, a businessman from Jalalabad, said there was a degree of return to normality but people were still very jumpy. "People panicked at the sound of firecrackers and bangers on New Year Eve... theres a sense of danger, of the expectation of something bad, he said. While neither Kyrgyz nor Uzbeks were thirsty for revenge, "theres tension there they look at each other askance, with animosity", he said. Nuraliev warned against having a false sense of security, saying winter was generally a quiet time anyway, but if basic economic problems like the availability of petrol and crop seed were not addressed, spring could see the south explode again". Popular unhappiness could be exploited by a range of forces with an axe to grind Bakiev supporters, Islamic militants, and drug barons. Mirsaitov said the authorities were trying to stimulate economic recovery, but measures like tax breaks would not help until people felt the situation was secure enough to take advantage of them. Zumrad Tanakova, who has a small shop in Osh, confirmed this was the case. Although the government provided a six-month grace period when it did not collect taxes, theres no way these taxes could have been paid anyway, since practically nothing is working, she said. At the same time, comments by other interviewees suggest cautious optimism about future thanks to rebuilding work and government support for families and businesses affected by the violence. Among Uzbeks, though, confidence in the authorities does not extend to the law-enforcement agencies or the courts which are trying alleged participants in the violence. Hikmatillo, the truck driver, said there could be no peace and reconciliation between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz unless the real perpetrators of the violence were brought to justice in an unbiased judicial process. Others expressed concern at a campaign to promote the Kyrgyz language. In December, Osh regional governor Sooronbay Jeenbekov instructed local government institutions agencies to conduct all business in Kyrgyz, as opposed to Russian which is also an official language and is widely used as lingua franca among different groups. Kyrgyzstans government has long striven to promote the use of the state language. In this case, it is the timing of the move that has created quiet resentment among Uzbeks, who questioned the symbolism of the campaign and the need for it at a time when so many other urgent needs had to be addressed. Despite the challenges facing the south, Mirsaitov remains optimistic. "There is a widespread view that the two communities will be able to come to terms. The main thing is for politics not to get in the way here, he said. Anara Yusupova is a pseudonym for a journalist in Bishkek. Isomidin Ahmedjanov is an IWPR-trained journalist in Osh. 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 PARLIAMENT TO RULE ON EXTENDING PRESIDENTS TERM Referendum allowing President Nazarbaev to stay on without election would be bad for democracy, critics say. By Mirlan Telebarisov, Andrei Grishin Although Kazak president Nursultan Nazarbaev has vetoed a bill to extend his term in office until 2020 avoiding the need for an election next year parliament may still insist on the move when it meets on January 14. Critics of plans for a referendum prolonging Nazarbaevs current term to 2020 say it would be a blow to democracy. They suspect the presidents demurral, which came in the form of a decree issued on January 6, is just a ploy, and believe parliament will push through the change anyway by securing the required 80 per cent majority. Formally raised in parliament in Decmber, the referendum plan originated among a group of public figures from East Kazakstan region, led by the rector of Semey State University, Yerlan Sydykov. Speaking to reporters on January 10, Sydykov said that more than four million people in other words four out of ten voting-age Kazak citizens had signed up in support of holding a referendum. This far exceeds the 200,000 signatures needed for a referendum to take place. Now 70, Nazarbaev has ruled Kazakstan continuously since he was elected president of the newly-independent state in 1991. A referendum in 1995 extended his term in office, and he went on to win elections in 1999 and 2005, the last time for an extended seven instead of five years. While future presidents will be restricted to two terms, a constitutional change from 2007 allows Nazarbaev to run as many times as he wants. Supporters of extending Nazarbaevs current term say he is irreplaceable for the moment. Amzebek Jolshibekov, who chairs the parliamentary committee for international affairs, defence and security, sees Nazarbaev as the guarantor of peace and stability. He argues that Kazakstan has no need to subject itself to the kind of unrest which has ousted presidents in other Soviet republics. Political analysts and opposition activists in Kazakstan believe the referendum is almost inevitable despite the presidents veto. They recall that Nazarbaev refused to sign a bill last year granting him numerous privileges as Leader of the Nation, but the legislation went through anyway when it was signed by the prime minister and the speakers of both houses of parliament. Serikbolsyn Abdildin, former leader of the Communist Party of Kazakstan, believes Nazarbaev is merely trying to distance himself from a plan that might look embarrassing abroad. The president has sent out a message to the international community to say he is not a dictator or a monarch, Abdildin said. Protest against the referendum were led by NGOs and opposition groups, which said the plan violated the basic civil right to elect ones leaders. Six people were arrested in the western city of Uralsk during a January 6 demonstration organised by a group made up of journalists and members of the opposition Alga party. Two were given five days in jail each for resisting arrest, while the others were fined. The NGO coalition Kazakstan-OSCE 2010 issued a statement on January 13 calling for the 2012 election to be held according to schedule. The Almaty-based human rights group Ar-Rukh-Hak organised an online counter-petition, publicised on the website of opposition newspaper Respublika on January 11 called public to sign up. Acknowledging that only 400 people had signed up so far, the groups head Bakytjan Toregojina ascribed this to an atmosphere of political pressure. Toregojina is among those who have accused organisers of the referendum petition of coercing people into signing the pro-referendum document. Many residents of Almaty interviewed by IWPR confirmed that they had been approached and asked to sign. An employee of a marketing agency said she signed after her office manager put pressure on her, saying a friend at the Kazak justice ministry had been tasked with gathering signatures and had asked her to help. Another Almaty resident who works for a major electronics firm said managers there made it mandatory for staff to provide their passport details for the petition. A housewife who gave her first name as Elana said she had seen how details of pupils at her daughters school were taken down by one of the parents for inclusion in the list. Frankly, people didnt make an attempt to find out what it was all about, and it looked as though they didnt even care, she said, admitting she had signed the petition herself. Another mother, Bakhyt, said her daughters teacher had asked for her ID details so her name could be put down. Bakhyt refused to do so, saying she was free not to. Mikhail Panin, who is deputy rector of the teacher-training institute in Semey and one of the architects of the referendum proposal, denied that anyone had been forced to sign. We repeated over and over at meetings and conferences that no one has the right to coerce anyone; this is about an expression of citizens free will, he said. Mirlan Telebarisov is a freelance reporter in Kazakstan. Andrei Grishin is a staff member at the Kazakstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law. TURKMEN AUTHORITIES PLAY DOWN HIV/AIDS Hard-to-credit official figures suggest infection rates are close to zero. By IWPR Central Asia Health experts in Turkmenistan warn that blanket denials that the country has an HIV/AIDS problem will do nothing to curb the spread of the virus. Unlike other Central Asian states, Turkmenistan is not listed in the 2010 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic compiled by the United Nations agency, as the national authorities did not submit information. The general approach is to deny there is a problem. The government marked World AIDS Day on December 1, for example, with a statement that Turkmenistan is among those world countries where this terrible disease has not spread. According to official statistics, Turkmenistan has only had two recorded cases of HIV infection in the last two decades. A commentator in the capital Ashgabat said healthcare workers were too fearful to talk about HIV/AIDS in public. But unofficially, doctors acknowledge that the problem exists and they doubt the figures that are cited are accurate, he said. A doctor in Turkmenistan agreed that it was hard to credit official data suggesting there were virtually no cases of HIV. Look how many sex workers and drug addicts we have. In a situation like that, how is it possible to say with conviction that we dont have AIDS here? he asked. Doctors try to maintain silence on AIDS cases. Its a taboo disease, an analyst based in the northern Dashoguz region said. Medical staff record cases as colds, hepatitis, typhus or cholera. In a report last April, the international medical assistance group Médecins Sans Frontières, which operated in Turkmenistan until it was forced out at the end of 2009, said healthcare workers risked dismissal or even imprisonment if they failed to manipulate records to keep them in line with official health targets. It is undeniable that tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS are more prevalent than reported figures would suggest and the Turkmen government is refusing to acknowledge this reality, a press release accompanying the report said. There is little independently-sourced information about HIV/AIDS incidence. The Vienna-based Turkmenistan Initiative for Human Rights, TIHR, said 68 HIV-positive individuals had been identified in the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi. The report noted that the city had significant numbers of sex workers, seen as a high-risk group especially in cases where illegal drug use involved sharing needles. Turkmenistan has a long border with Afghanistan, and is one of the transit routes for heroin shipped to Russia and the rest of Europe. Again, the government has dealt with rising heroin use mainly by not talking about it. The Turkmen government ascribes its success in keeping HIV/AIDS at bay to extensive preventive programmes and awareness-raising work among healthcare workers and other institutions. Last September a National AIDS Prevention Centre opened, which the authorities say offers anonymous testing and the capacity to treat 20 in-patients. UNAIDS is currently funding 36 testing laboratories and training HIV/AIDS specialists, but the Turkmen doctor interviewed for this report said the project will end in March 2011, apparently due to disagreements with the government. After that, we will face a real problem, the doctor warned. Analysts say preventive measures cannot be effective if the government will not admit that HIV is present in the country. They argue that awareness campaigns have focused on healthcare workers rather than the general population, and have not properly addressed issues like the role of condoms in preventing infection and the risk of transmission through breastfeeding. There is no education campaign among HIV-positive people, so there have been cases of vertical infection where the virus spreads from a breastfeeding mother to her child, an analyst based in the country said. Interviewees also noted that that the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS meant many people were keen to conceal their status and would happily bribe doctors to give them the all-clear. A local journalist who covers health issues said that even when a positive diagnosis took place at a clinic, the individual involved did not receive appropriate treatment because of the atmosphere of denial and because specialist doctors and medicines had not been put in place. 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. TOUGH TIMES AHEAD FOR KYRGYZ COALITION Survival of new government depends on party leaders keeping differences in check. By Emir Kulov, Dina Tokbaeva As the long-awaited government in Kyrgyzstan sets its priorities for its first few months in office, analysts say the diverse composition of the coalition will make it hard to tackle the numerous political, security and economic challenges facing it. The long and uncertain wait following parliamentary elections in October finally ended in December with the approval of a cabinet consisting of Ata Jurt and the Social Democratic Party, which came first and second in the ballot, respectively, and Respublika, which came fourth. Together they hold 77 of the 120 seats in parliament, well above the 50 per cent margin required to hold power. The coalition partners make surprising bedfellows. Ata Jurt describes its stance as national patriotic and emerged last year in opposition to the interim administration which came to power following the ousting of President Kurmanbek Bakiev in a popular uprising in April. At the time, that made it a natural adversary of the Social Democrats, who held key positions in the transitional administration. After the election, most analysts predicted that two blocs would compete for the right to form a government, one of them bringing together Ata Jurt together with the third-placed Ar Namys, and the other consisting of the Social Democrats and Ata-Meken, which had also been part of the interim government. Winning over Respublika, a newish party, was seen as key to the success of either bloc. The first coalition to emerge was indeed made up of the Social Democrats and Ata-Meken plus Respublika, but it foundered at the first hurdle when some of its members of parliament were among the majority who refused to approve its choice of speaker. A further round of negotiations produced the current alignment, which successfully got its candidates through votes in mid-December, with Social Democrat leader Almazbek Atambaev selected as prime minister and Ata Jurt parliamentary leader Ahmatbek Keldibekov becoming the speaker. Respublikas leader, Omurbek Babanov, was made first deputy prime minister. The establishment of a functioning government is just the start on the difficult road to overcoming the many challenges facing Kyrgyzstan. The election followed months of political turbulence which began with the ejection of President Bakiev in April and reached a peak in June with widespread ethnic clashes in and around the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad, which left over 400 dead and caused massive devastation. Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstans already fragile economy continues to reel from the blows dealt to it by the multiple effects of global financial crisis, ranging from a downturn in trade to falling demand for its migrant labour force in countries like Russia. Analysts say fundamental differences of approach among the three coalition parties will inevitably resurface as they set about formulating policies to when they negotiate the common approach on policies. The highly personalised nature of Kyrgyz politics will make compromises especially difficult. The stakes are high because in the new new-shape parliament, which stems from a constitutional referendum held in July 2010, the coalition enjoys more powers than previous governing blocs. Kadyr Malikov, head of the Religion, Law and Politics Centre in Bishkek, says the new cabinet needs to agree immediate actions such as how to ensure that public-sector wages and benefits are paid. Yet decisions on economic and security matters alike are going to be hard to reach, since each party has its own vision of the future. But he warns, There is no common mechanism by which the coalition can function. The parties have different programmes, and different approaches to economics and to shaping the budget. The coalition has distributed the [ministerial] portfolios but mistrust still exists between the parties within it. Each party also has its own internal groupings that dont trust one another. Much will depend on the willingness of party leaders to give ground, and also on the behaviour of individual members of parliament, Malikov said. Pavel Dyatlenko, a political analyst with the Polis Asia think-tank, predicts that the coalition government will face tough times through the winter and spring, and says its survival will depend on success in areas such as securing financial aid from foreign governments and international organisations, reviving the economy, and strengthening the control of central government over regional leaders, informal political elites and the law enforcement agencies. One positive move came when Prime Minister Atambaev visited Russia at the end of December, securing agreement from Moscow to lift export duties on fuel sales to Kyrgyzstan from January 1. Providing it lasts through the cold season, Dyatlenko forecasts that the coalition government will remain in place until October 2011, when a presidential election is due. As well as economics, security matters will also feature high on the parliamentary agenda. Malikov said one immediate issue to be dealt with was the threat posed by armed militants. On January 5, three armed men and a member of the security services died when police mounted an operation against a suspected Islamic radical group in a village outside Bishkek. The group is believed to have been behind the murder of three policemen the day before, a bombing near the venue of a high-profile trial on November 30, and an attempted bomb attack outside the capitals police headquarters on December 24. Despite the difficult circumstances the government is operating in, Medet Tyulegenov, senior lecturer in comparative international politics at the American University in Central Asia in Bishkek, remains cautiously optimistic about its chances, arguing that coalition members are displaying a pragmatic approach to making government work. At the same time, Tyulegenov warned that the coalition would stray into difficult territory when it came to rendering an account of last Junes violence, which a parliamentary commission is currently investigating. During debates, the Social Democrats could find itself under fire through its association with the interim government, which has been accused of not doing enough to prevent the conflict. Ata-Jurt, meanwhile, will be on the other side of the fence as it was not in power at the time and made a name for itself by organising aid shipments to southern Kyrgyzstan. The government is already facing its first practical test with a threat by teachers to go on strike unless their salaries are raised fourfold by the end of January. The ultimatum follows protests last month by thousands of secondary schoolteachers across Kyrgyzstan. The government says it cannot afford the pay rise, even though the amount the teachers are asking for comes to an average of 40 US dollars a month. Healthcare workers have also issued a statement demanding a wage increase. Emir Kulov is IWPR editor for Kyrgyzstan, Dina Tokbaeva is IWPRs regional editor for Central Asia. Additional reporting provided by Askar Erkebaev, a Kloop.kg reporter in Bishkek, and Timur Toktonaliev, an IWPR-trained correspondent in Bishkek. 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. **** 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. IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Community Fund. The service is published online in English and Russian. The opinions expressed in Reporting Central Asia are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the publication or of IWPR. REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA: Editor-in-Chief: Anthony Borden; Managing Editor: Yigal Chazan; Senior Editor and Acting Central Asia Director: John MacLeod; Central Asia Editor: Saule Mukhametrakhimova. 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