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BISHKEK (TCA) — The Publisher’s note: Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Central Asia was the scene of intense geopolitical struggle and the Great Game between the British and Russian Empires, and later between the Soviet Union and the West, over Afghanistan and neighboring territories. Into the 21st century, Central Asia has become the area of a renewed geopolitical interest, dubbed the New Great Game, largely based on the region’s hydrocarbon and mineral wealth. On top of that, the region now is perhaps the most important node in the implementation of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative through which Beijing aims to get direct access to Western markets. Every week thousands of news appears in the world’s printed and online media and many of them may escape the attention of busy readers. At The Times of Central Asia, we strongly believe that more information can better contribute to peaceful development and better knowledge of this unique region. So we are presenting this Weekly Digest which compiles what other media have reported on Central Asia over the past week.

KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakhstan and China: strengthening friendship and partnership in a new era

Beibut Atamkulov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, gave an exclusive interview to Kazakhstanskaya Pravda newspaper explaining the results of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s Sept. 11-12 state visit to China

Sep 15 — “This visit was historical, and built upon the tradition of bilateral meetings initiated by the First President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. On the basis of the previously reached agreements, this visit was meat to open a new stage of Kazakh-Chinese relations. As is well known, this year China is coming up to its 70-year milestone. In turn, Kazakhstan is preparing to mark the 30th anniversary of its modern development. Both countries are approaching these anniversaries stronger and more confident, prepared for new horizons of friendship, strategic partnership and joint growth.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2019/09/kazakhstan-and-china-strengthening-friendship-and-partnership-in-a-new-era/

First Glimpses of Tokayev's Kazakhstan: The Listening State?

While seeking to "maintain continuity" yet nonetheless calling for "systemic reforms," Kazakhstan’s new President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev appears to institute and seek to manage reforms from above

Sep 17 — “Since Kassym-Jomart Tokayev assumed the presidency on March 20, Kazakhstan has taken a beating in the world press. And not without cause. Two days after the event, police shut down several unprecedented demonstrations in the capital. Over the following weeks several thousand young men and women were apprehended, journalists were roughed up, and men in black masks used umbrellas to prevent film crews from recording the events. An open letter from thirty-eight journalists and activists complained about this and other confrontations. The Ministry of Internal Affairs laid the blame on “vigilantism” but promised an investigation. The police, whose actions were at issue, chose silence. Only later did the government admit that mistakes had been made.” READ MORE: https://silkroadstudies.org/publications/joint-center-publications/item/13338-first-glimpses-of-tokayevs-kazakhstan-the-listening-state?.html

Kazakhstan: Does government reshuffle offer clues about future?

President Tokayev changed around some top officials on his 100th day in office

Sep 19 — “On his 100th day after being elected to his post, the president of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, has overseen a reshuffle of top officials, raising questions about possible shifts in elite power dynamics. Among the major changes announced on September 18 were the appointment of a new presidential chief of staff – the outgoing governor of the Karaganda region, Yerlan Koshanov, will take over from Krymbek Kusherbayev. The latter has been moved to take up a job as state secretary, a post with vague job specifications. Marat Tazhin, a long-familiar face on the scene, was dismissed as state secretary.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-does-government-reshuffle-offer-clues-about-future

Kazakhstan will continue championing dialogue and cooperation

Kazakhstan’s president on his vision of the country’s future

Sep 20 — “I am immensely proud to be travelling to New York to head Kazakhstan’s delegation to the United Nations General Assembly. It will be my first visit as president but I am, of course, no stranger – as a former foreign minister – to either the United States or the UN, where I served as under-secretary general. I hope this experience will be valuable as I work to build on the legacy of our first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who led our country with such distinction.” READ MORE: https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/462222-kazakhstan-will-continue-championing-dialogue-and

KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan: Latin (alphabet) fever takes hold

Any alphabet switch in Kyrgyzstan remains hypothetical due to budget and geopolitical considerations

Sep 13 — “An off-the-cuff comment by a freshly appointed Education Minister in Kyrgyzstan about a potential change of alphabet for Kyrgyz has cause frenzied discussions online, even if the proposal seems a long way from reality. Kanybek Isakov set tongues wagging on September 11 when he expressed support for a switch from the Cyrillic to Latin alphabets in response to a question from a lawmaker at his confirmation hearing.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-latin-alphabet-fever-takes-hold

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan flounder in finding fix for border woes

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are yet to complete their border demarcation. And still, conflicts at disputed sections cause new deaths on both sides of the borderline

Sep 18 — “There have been 12 cases of violent unrest on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan so far this year. And there is no indication that anybody knows how to put a stop to these outbursts. The most recent incident occurred on September 16 in an area adjacent to the Tajik settlement of Ovchi Kalacha, not far from the city of Khujand, and the Kyrgyz village of Maksat. Troops on both sides exchanged gunfire in a confrontation that cost at least four lives.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-tajikistan-flounder-in-finding-fix-for-border-woes

Turkey’s Pegasus Airlines sells its stake in Kyrgyzstan’s Air Manas

Kyrgyzstan has perhaps the weakest air communication with the rest of the world compared to other Central Asian countries

Sep 18 — “Turkish low-cost carrier (LCC) Pegasus Airlines is selling its 49 per cent stake in private Kyrgyzstan carrier Air Manas, following a decision taken by the Pegasus Airlines’ board of directors last week. This information was confirmed by a Turkish airline to ATO.ru, Russian Aviation Insider’s sister publication. In the same week, Pegasus Airlines entered into an agreement to sell its stake in Air Manas to AviaTrade Corp. LP, a Belfast, Northern Ireland entity, registered in 2018.” READ MORE: http://www.rusaviainsider.com/turkeys-pegasus-airlines-sells-stake-kyrgyzstans-air-manas/

TAJIKISTAN

Sex-Video Trap Aims To Defame Female Activist In Tajikistan

Using sex videos to damage opponents' and critics' reputations is not new in Tajikistan

Sep 16 — “A sexually explicit video involving a Tajik female activist has been posted online in an apparent bid to defame her in Tajikistan’s religiously conservative society. The activist and human rights campaigner, whose name is being withheld, says she doesn't know precisely who is responsible for recording and distributing the video. Police say they're investigating the case after receiving a formal complaint from the woman.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/sex-video-trap-aims-to-defame-activist-in-tajikistan/30166890.html

Tajikistan: Barriers to Aid for Domestic Violence Victims

Gaps in government response put women’s lives at risk in Tajikistan

Sep 19 — “Tajikistan’s government takes little action to investigate or prosecute domestic violence cases and is doing far too little to help survivors, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Despite progress in some areas, Tajik law does not criminalize domestic violence, and women who experience abuse lack adequate protection and access to shelter and other services.” READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/09/19/tajikistan-barriers-aid-domestic-violence-victims

Tajikistan: More presidential family members sell off assets

The business holdings controlled by at least three of the Tajik president’s relatives are showing signs of distress

Sep 19 — “Beg Sabur, a relative by marriage of Tajikistan’s president who has gained notoriety by gutting the national telecommunications sectors, is selling off lucrative real estate. This revelation, which was reported by Prague-based news website Akhbor on September 19, comes on the heels of a company controlled by a son-in-law of President Emomali Rahmon announcing that it was set for liquidation.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-more-presidential-family-members-sell-off-assets

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan: A dog’s life

In its ‘Akhal-Teke: A Turkmenistan Bulletin’, Eurasianet reviews the main news and events in the Central Asian country for the previous week

Sep 17 — “Nine days after Amandurdy Ishanov was fired as Turkmenistan’s Trade and Foreign Economic Relations Minister, he reappeared on state television. It was not to accept a new post, but to publicly admit to corruption charges. The confession had all the hallmarks of a coerced show trial testimony and Ishanov was not alone. Businessman Charymukhammed Kulov was also shown, sobbing and confessing to corruption charges. Both have been handed unspecified jail sentences.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-a-dogs-life

Student Vs. Student: Turkmen Government Recruits 'Snitches' To Spy On Classmates

In authoritarian Turkmenistan, unofficial student spies are reportedly tasked with collecting information on their peers who criticize government policies

Sep 18 — “Turkmenistan's security service is expanding its network of so-called informants among university students to spy on those who criticize the government or use proxies to access banned websites. The reports on the recruitment of student spies comes from university students and professors who spoke on condition of anonymity to RFE/RL correspondents in the closed Central Asian country of some 5.5 million people, where any hint of opposition to the state is vigorously punished.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmen-student-vs-student-turkmen-snitches-spy-classmates/30171577.html

Activists Tell OSCE Turkmenistan Backtracking On Pledges About Disappeared Prisoners

Rights groups say that in many cases, prisoners who have disappeared in the custody of Turkmen authorities have been convicted on politically motivated charges and have been perceived as a potential threat to the authorities in Ashgabat

Sep 18 — “An international rights campaign has told the OSCE's human rights conference in Warsaw that Turkmenistan is backtracking on its promises to curtail the practice of enforced disappearances in its prison system. As a result, the Prove They Are Alive! campaign is calling on the international community to apply "strong, consistent" pressure on Turkmenistan to end what it says is a "systemic" state practice.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/activists-tell-osce-turkmenistan-backtracking-on-pledges-about-disappeared-prisoners/30171322.html

UZBEKISTAN

Inside the 'Pompeii of Uzbekistan', Alexander the Great's forgotten city

The ruins of Kampir Tepe has been revealed as the lost city of Alexandria of Oxus — one of Central Asia’s most important but least visited ancient sites

Sep 13 — “I almost missed Kampir Tepe. My driver had never heard of it, and the guide had never been. I’d read that the archaeological site should be around 30km west of Termez, but as we drove along dusty roads between cotton fields and villages, the Amu Darya demarcating the Uzbek-Afghan border to our left, finding it was going to be a matter of luck. There wasn’t a signpost to be seen, and it hadn’t yet been added to Google Maps.” READ MORE: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/asia/uzbekistan/articles/Kampir-tepe-pompeii-uzbekistan/

Uzbekistan’s hellish prison closes gates, for now

The story of Jaslyk is not over, though. While the facility will no longer hold long-term inmates, it is being handed over to Nukus city police for use as a pre-trial detention center

Sep 13 — “In early August, Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev declared that the nation’s deepest, darkest black hole would finally be closed. In the two decades since it was opened, Jaslyk has become more than a prison. It has served as a byword for brutality. Inmates have included people convicted on terrorism charges and other serious crimes. Opposition figures, rights activists and pious Muslims have also been locked up in Jaslyk.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistans-hellish-prison-closes-gates-for-now

Uzbekistan Transforming Old Silk Road Cities to Smart Cities

Uzbek smart city projects have been stressing out people. There have been news reports about protests and court cases in Tashkent over traditional housing demolitions and evictions

Sep 18 — “Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, is undergoing a transformation at a pace and scale almost comparable to Samarkand in 1370, when the Turco-Mongol ruler Timur — or Tamerlane, as he is known in the West — made it his capital.” READ MORE: https://www.insidesources.com/uzbekistan-transforming-old-silk-road-cities-to-smart-cities/

AFGHANISTAN

In Afghanistan, Taliban’s Ties to al-Qaida Unchanged

The Taliban and al-Qaida are linked together by their shared history and desire for jihad, or holy war. And there is no evidence that the two groups have broken off relations

Sep 17 — “During months of negotiations, the Afghan Taliban promised the United States that it would never again be attacked from Afghan soil. Such a promise would have included al-Qaida. Eighteen years ago, al-Qaida’s leadership planned attacks on the U.S. mainland from inside Afghanistan, which was controlled, at the time, by the Taliban. The attacks were carried out on September 11, 2001.” READ MORE: https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/in-afghanistan-taliban-s-ties-to-al-qaida-unchanged/5087412.html

It’s Really Hard to Buy Peace in Afghanistan

Western leaders looking to replace troops with targeted aid may find it counterproductive

Sep 19 — “As the U.S. considers a troop drawdown in Afghanistan, many in NATO are looking for other ways to stabilize the country – whether or not there is some sort of peace deal. Could extra international assistance be the answer? Eighteen years since Operational Enduring Freedom first ousted the Taliban, there is now valuable research which brings into focus exactly how spending funds can quell – or, in some cases, exacerbate – an insurgency. The summary is: it depends…” READ MORE: https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2019/09/its-really-hard-buy-peace-afghanistan/160005/

Ending the Afghan War Won’t End the Killing

A major legacy of the U.S. war on terror in Afghanistan will be the “explosive remnants of war” — a term for all the landmines and unexploded bombs and other weaponry that have been left behind in the earth

Sep 19 — “I’ve never been to Afghanistan, but I am the mother of two young children. So when I imagine what life must be like there after 18 years of war, my mind conjures up the children most vividly — the ones who have been affected by the conflict — and their parents. I think of the 12-year-old boy who was carrying water to a military checkpoint in a remote part of that country, earning pennies to help sustain his family, whose legs were blown off by a landmine. Or the group of children at a wedding party, playing behind the house where the ceremony was taking place.” READ MORE: https://truthout.org/articles/ending-the-afghan-war-wont-end-the-killing/

WORLD

The Meridian Highway Through Central Asia

The Meridian Highway project will link Belarus and Kazakhstan with approximately 1,240 miles of roads passing through Russia and is expected to represent the missing final link in overland transit between Western Europe and China

Sep 13 — “When Russia is in the news regarding its highways, the news is almost inevitably a scathing review of either the general state of disrepair, or of the outdated traffic management policy (along with the occasional Looney Tunes-esque theft). The June 2019 announcement of the Meridian Highway project, however, has captured the attention world-wide of dreamers and handwringers alike.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/09/the-meridian-highway-through-central-asia/

China Uses High-Tech to Monitor Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Religious Freedoms Group Says

Chinese technology companies track the daily movements of more than 2.5 million people in Xinjiang

Sep 16 — “High-tech surveillance systems set up in China in the name of preventing extremism and crime are also targeting religious groups and houses of worship, especially in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), a U.S. bipartisan commission said in a report released on Monday. Cameras now closely monitor attendance at mosques in Xinjiang, leaving many ethnic Uyghurs afraid to attend prayer services, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in its Sept. 2019 report, Religious Freedom in China’s High-Tech Surveillance State.” READ MORE: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/monitor-09162019160139.html

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