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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

Students suffer sexual harassment in Kazakhstan

After a string of widely publicised sexual harassment cases at several prestigious institutions of higher learning, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has the opportunity to spearhead the anti-sexual harassment campaign in Kazakhstan’s colleges and universities

Mar 9 — “Kazakhstan is a predominantly traditional Muslim society that features strong elements of Soviet and Russian influence. At the same time, the country struggles to modernise and embrace some European values. Despite the unusual mix of traditionalism and European modernism, Kazakhstan is not free of the problem of sexual harassment and consequently, sexual harassment scandals. One such scandal took place at the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research, also known as KIMEP University.” READ MORE: https://neweasterneurope.eu/2020/03/09/students-suffer-sexual-harassment-in-kazakhstan/

UK issues unexplained wealth order over Kazakhstan family's house

UK’s National Crime Agency is investigating how Kazakhstan ex-President’s grandson bought London mansion

Mar 10 — “Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has asked a grandson of the former president of Kazakhstan to explain where he got the money from to buy a multimillion-pound mansion in one of north London’s most expensive roads. The house, along with two other properties, is worth £80m ($104m), the NCA says, and has an underground swimming pool and a cinema. It is occupied by Nurali Aliyev, his wife Aida, and their children. Aliyev, 35, is the grandson of former Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev.” READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/mar/10/uk-issues-unexplained-wealth-order-over-kazakhstan-familys-house

Coronavirus negatively impacts Kazakhstan’s economy

The global outbreak of coronavirus has taken its toll on the economies of many countries, including Kazakhstan

Mar 10 — “Kazakhstan in February received less than 2.1 billion tenge ($5.49 million) of customs duties and taxes from importing goods from China, Kazakhstan’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Alikhan Smailov told a government meeting on 10 March. According to Smailov, one of the reasons is the outbreak of coronavirus in China.” READ MORE: https://www.neweurope.eu/article/coronavirus-negatively-impacts-kazakhstans-economy/

When Kazakhstan Will Stop Making “Extremists” of Ordinary People?

In Kazakhstan, “religious” trials come one after another and it is impossible to secure an acquittal of “extremist” and “terrorist” charges

Mar 12 — “For the first time ever, the Supreme Court reversed the sentence of a person accused on two articles of the Criminal Code, namely crimes “against peace and safety of the humanity” and “against public security and public order”. His case stands out from a hundred of other cases, whose subjects are imprisoned now.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/when-kazakhstan-will-stop-making-extremists-of-ordinary-people/

KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan: Bringing Women into Politics

New law aims to increase female participation in municipal affairs in Kyrgyzstan

Mar 8 — “At 28, Nazik Akparova is the youngest deputy of the village council of Saruu in the Issyk Kul region, combining her political work with her job as a teacher and looking after her four young children. Her family, Akparova said, has been very supportive; relatives first suggested she run for office, and her husband does everything he can to help her make it work. Her fellow council members were less keen, however, openly stirring up antagonism towards her.” READ MORE: https://iwpr.net/global-voices/kyrgyzstan-bringing-women-politics

What is a National Adaptation Plan and Why Do We Need it?

It is important to prepare the population and the economic sectors of Kyrgyzstan for the probability of natural disasters

Mar 9 — “In December 2019, the Kyrgyz Republic ratified the Paris Agreement, thereby making the commitment to undertaking measures against global warming, and to enhancing the country’s adaptive capacity to climate change. Adaptation involves taking measures to anticipate the adverse effects of climate change, and to prevent or minimize the damage they entail by increasing the resilience of communities, businesses, and infrastructure. Adaptation can also aim at taking advantage of opportunities that may arise as a consequence of climate change.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/what-is-a-national-adaptation-plan-and-why-do-we-need-it/

Kyrgyzstan’s crumbling schools: A tragedy waiting to happen

Kyrgyzstan's rural schools are falling apart, and new buildings aren't finished for lack of funds

Mar 11 — “Like many a parent, Meerim Tolomushova, 35, begins to fret about her small children the moment they step out of the door to go to school. It is not just their grades she’s worried about. The very real concern is that the rotting floor of the classes in which they study might give way at any moment. Kyzyl-Zhyldyz, her village in a mountainous area of eastern Kyrgyzstan, has one school that packs in 400 local children. Five years ago, some of the buildings, of which the oldest dates back to the 1930s, were officially designated as being unfit for purpose and in need of urgent renovation. Since then, nothing has been done.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstans-crumbling-schools-a-tragedy-waiting-to-happen

TAJIKISTAN

Sisters Doing it For Themselves in Tajikistan

Numbers of female entrepreneurs are growing in Tajikistan, despite still facing challenges

Mar 10 — “When Mahfirat Sairakhmonova decided to buy eight hectares of land to start a farm, her neighbours and relatives said that she would never make it work. “When I established the farm, many people did not believe that I could succeed,” she explained. “They said, ‘How can a rural woman manage a farm?’ They did not believe that a woman from the countryside would be able to run a business and provide several others with a permanent job.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/sisters-doing-it-for-themselves-in-tajikistan/

Two Gang Members Convicted Of Highway Killings In Russia Sentenced In Tajikistan

Many Tajik citizens stay in Russia for various reasons — mainly as migrant laborers

Mar 10 — “Russia's Prosecutor-General's Office says two members of a notorious gang have been convicted of highway killings and robberies in Russia and sentenced to 25 years in prison each in Tajikistan. In a March 10 statement, the office said that Tajikistan's Sughd regional court had sentenced Boir Gulomov and Murodjon Karimov, members of the "GTA gang," after finding them guilty of "being members of an organized criminal group, murders, robberies, and other crimes committed on the territory of the Russian Federation." READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/two-gang-members-convicted-of-highway-killings-in-russia-sentenced-in-tajikistan/30479482.html

Tajikistan’s Coal Dilemma

An independent expert from Tajikistan makes an analysis of the danger of the country’s dependence on coal and the environmental consequences of coal mining

Mar 12 — “Coal mining continues to break records in Tajikistan. People who are supporting the development of the coal industry in republic call the full-fledged transition to this fossil fuel as “a spirit of the times” and say that without the use of coal in the fuel-power and industrial sectors, the republic has no development prospects. The authorities prefer to mention about new jobs, benefits for the economy, but are silent about the environmental and social consequences. Progressive representatives of the scientific community and environmental organizations call the return to coal as short-term solutions to pressing economic problems with far-reaching consequences and which remind of responsibility before the environment and future generations.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/tajikistan-s-coal-dilemma/

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan: Fruit of the Loon

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

Mar 10 — “Icy winds blowing west from China are threatening once more to leave Turkmenistan in the cold. According to March 5 reports from Bloomberg and Reuters, PetroChina is on the cusp of resorting to force majeure provisions to suspend natural gas imports, including possibly from Turkmenistan. Officials in Ashgabat seemed to be in the dark about what was looming though.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-fruit-of-the-loon

The demolished village of Manyş to be replaced by the summer cottage of the President’s sister

Sources say the residency of the Turkmen President’s sister will be built here. It will be surrounded with orchids hiding the territory from prying eyes

Mar 11 — “Correspondents of “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” report that the village of Manyş, located in the mountains in the south-eastward of Ashgabat, has been knocked down. Some privately-owned houses and household buildings were dismantled last year. Teachers had been warned that the school would also be demolished and had been recommended to look for a new employer. However, the school kept operating. Later, in late February, the school was also bulldozed before the end of the academic year.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2020/03/the-demolished-village-of-manys-to-be-replaced-by-the-summer-cottage-of-the-presidents-sister/

Morocco’s OCP Agrees to Sulfur Deal with Turkmenistan

The deal is a confirmation of the two countries’ intention to strengthen bilateral ties

Mar 12 — “Moroccan state-owned company Cherifien Office for Phosphates (OCP Group) has concluded an agreement to purchase sulfur from Turkmenistan’s national gas company Turkmengas, reports Turkmen outlet TDH. Turkmenistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Rashid Meredov announced the deal on Tuesday, March 10, during a video conference session of the Turkmen Cabinet of Ministers.” READ MORE: https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2020/03/295947/moroccos-ocp-agrees-to-sulfur-deal-with-turkmenistan/

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbeks Seeing Red Over Being Forced To Pay For Andijon’s Green-City Plan

Residents of the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon complain that they are spending half of their salaries to buy the seedlings

Mar 11 — “An Uzbek governor’s plan to plant thousands of trees to beautify his dusty capital, Andijon, certainly sounded like a great idea to the city’s residents. But that was before they found out that they would be forced to buy the tree saplings needed to turn Andijon into a green city.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbeks-seeing-red-over-being-forced-to-pay-for-andijon-s-green-city-plan/30481415.html

Uzbekistan’s citizen journalists test limits of press freedom

The idea that a blogger might dare to confront an Uzbek policeman would have been near inconceivable a few years ago

Mar 12 — ““You can’t film! Why are you filming police officers?” a uniformed man shouts, as he goes through the motions of filing a traffic ticket. “Don’t film, you do not have the right to do that!” Carrying the camera was Abdufatto Nuritdinov, a popular videoblogger and the self-appointed scourge of officialdom in Asaka, a town in Uzbekistan’s Ferghana Valley. The idea that an unaffiliated citizen reporter in Uzbekistan might dare to confront a policeman would have been near inconceivable a few years ago.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistans-citizen-journalists-test-limits-of-press-freedom

Uzbek Investment Dispute Highlights Pitfalls Facing Emerging Economies

Since coming to power in 2016, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has made attracting foreign direct investment one of his top priorities

Mar 12 — “It was to have been a benchmark deal, not only bringing a new energy source to Central Asia's most populous country, but also signaling that Uzbekistan, after decades of insular authoritarian rule, wanted to be a player in the global marketplace. But two years later, the $1.3 billion contract to build a national solar energy generation system languishes with an uncertain future, providing an object lesson for other emerging economies seeking to open their markets to international investors.” READ MORE: https://www.voanews.com/south-central-asia/uzbek-investment-dispute-highlights-pitfalls-facing-emerging-economies

AFGHANISTAN

Potential for al-Qaeda-Islamic State Cooperation in Afghanistan

As part of the peace negotiations, the Taliban is supposed to assist in rooting out al-Qaeda and IS-K, potentially placing both groups in a challenging position, similar to the situation al-Qaeda affiliates and IS faced in Syria as their territories collapsed

Mar 11 — “Frequent speculation has recently been posited that Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda affiliates could eventually coalesce again, or at the least, begin cooperating at a more notable level than was seen at the height of the conflict in Syria. The death of IS Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi provided fresh evidence of likely cooperation between the two, despite their strategic differences and turf wars. Outside of Syria, most notably in Afghanistan, circumstances on the ground could further necessitate such cooperation.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/potential-for-al-qaeda-islamic-state-cooperation-in-afghanistan/

In Afghanistan, a new national park carries hopes for conservation and peace

Afghanistan established its fifth national park last year, the massive Bamyan Plateau Protected Area

Mar 11 — “Ibrahim Abrar’s first visit to Afghanistan’s Bamyan province, where he encountered the Dar-e-Bozurk, or Grand Canyon, is an experience he says he’ll never forget. He describes it as “a vast emptiness of gigantic and deep canyons, pristine rangeland, and rather intimidating dignified, old juniper trees.” In November 2019, more than a decade after that first encounter, Abrar, now a project manager with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Afghanistan program, returned with government officials to announce the establishment of the Bamyan Plateau Protected Area. Only the fifth protected area in Afghanistan, and the second-biggest at 4,200 square kilometers (1,600 square miles), roughly the size of the U.S. state of Rhode Island, it’s a landscape rich with ecological, social and cultural significance.” READ MORE: https://news.mongabay.com/2020/03/in-afghanistan-a-new-national-park-carries-hopes-for-conservation-and-peace/

Afghans Brace For Coronavirus As Thousands Return From Iran

Iran is home to more than 3 million Afghans -- including migrant workers and refugees as well as university and religious students

Mar 12 — “Officials in Afghanistan's western province of Herat are bracing for a rise in coronavirus infections, as thousands of Afghans return from neighboring Iran every day. The provincial Public Health Department told RFE/RL on March 12 that nearly 10,000 Afghans had entered Herat from Iran the previous day alone. That's a twofold increase from March 9, when local officials said about 4,800 Afghans had crossed the border from Iran in one day.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/afghans-brace-for-coronavirus-as-thousands-return-from-iran/30484077.html

WORLD

Qassem Soleimani’s Broken Dream in Central Asia

The five post-Soviet countries of Central Asia are cautiously following the development of confrontation between the US and Iran trying to take a “middle ground” without interfering in “someone else’s war”

Mar 9 — “Exactly two months ago, Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani was killed, whom the Shiite world considered a national hero, while the Sunni regimes of the Arabian Peninsula regarded him as evil incarnate. What legacy has Soleimani left in Central Asia? Will the Iranian policy in Central Asia change after the loss of its most influential military strategist? Is the threat to US interests in the Middle East and Central Asia “after Soleimani” gone?” READ MORE: https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2020/03/09/qassem-soleimanis-broken-dream-in-central-asia/

HENRY SREBRNIK: The wider Turkic world of Central Asia

Ankara and Moscow will most probably compete, rather than cooperate, in Central Asia, each seeing it as part of their respective “near abroads”

Mar 9 — “The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the formation of independent states in Central Asia and the Caucasus has transformed Turkey’s role in the world. The newly independent Turkic states constituted 85 per cent of the former Soviet Union’s Muslim population, which is predominantly Sunni, as is Turkey. The main Turkic groups in these states are Uzbeks, Kazaks, Tatars, Azeris, Turkomans, Kyrgyz, Chuvash, Bashkirs, Kumyks, Balkars, and Nogais.” READ MORE: https://www.journalpioneer.com/opinion/local-perspectives/henry-srebrnik-the-wider-turkic-world-of-central-asia-421405/

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