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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: Government steps up hunt for critics

Authorities have used coronavirus restrictions as a pretext to stifle dissent

Apr 21 — “At first glance, a string of arrests in Kazakhstan over the past week looks like the government using the cover of coronavirus-related lockdowns to resort to trusted old methods for crushing dissent. Closer examination hints at a more complicated picture. Gennady Krestyansky and Alnur Ilyashev are familiar gadflies. For years these activists have been taking pot-shots at a government they believe is corrupt and repressive.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-government-steps-up-hunt-for-critics

Jobs at Stake in Kazakhstan’s Energy Sector

A drop in Brent oil prices and the emergence of cases of COVID-19 at the Tengiz field are poised to slash investment and hammer employment

Apr 22 — “While the price of U.S. oil touched negative figures, jeopardizing the local and international market, Brent oil dipped below $20/barrel, keeping Kazakhstan, Central Asia’s main exporting country, braced for a long term crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic, in these circumstances, is the additional weight that could tip the scale toward a recession.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/04/jobs-at-stake-in-kazakhstans-energy-sector/

Plunge In Oil Prices Deals Another Blow To Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan

The rest of 2020 will be really tough for Kazakhstan and even harder on Turkmenistan

Apr 23 — “When the crucial OPEC+ meeting broke up on March 8 after major disagreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia, it sent the price of oil plunging.
Other countries dependent on oil exports for revenue could only watch with trepidation during the succeeding days as oil prices continued to sink. Prices did finally stabilize in late March, though at levels significantly lower than they were just weeks earlier.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/qishloq-ovozi-plunging-oil-prices-kazakhstan-turkmenistan-economic-problems/30572905.html

Tradition of Head Covering in the Culture and Religions of Kazakhstan

A women’s headscarf is not just a beautiful accessory or a religious garment. In the old days, white headscarf used to mean the end of wars and conflicts for some nations. Today its meaning goes far beyond religions or national traditions

Apr 24 — “Classes of Islam for women and girls are held three times a week at the central mosque of Shymkent, in the south of Kazakhstan. The Muslim girls of all ages learn how to read and understand the Quran, the canons of religion. Students attend classes in headscarves even if they do not cover their heads outside the mosque. According to the teacher, Balzhan Doszhanova, a women’s headscarf is not just a religious garment. The available historical documents, pictures and clothing are indicative of the fact that Kazakh women used to cover their heads.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/tradition-of-head-covering-in-the-culture-and-religions-of-kazakhstan/

KYRGYZSTAN

Doctors of Kyrgyzstan with the COVID-19 Diagnosis: Trade Unions Did Not Fulfill Their Mission

Human rights activists criticized the passive position of the medical trade union, which is designed to defend the rights of medical workers

Apr 22 — “According to the Republican headquarter for the fight against coronavirus, as of April 20, 140 medical workers have been infected with the coronavirus in the republic. Doctors say that they were not provided with the necessary medicine and equipment, as far as it was necessary. For such statements, medical professionals are persecuted. Additionally, human rights activists criticized the trade union of health workers, which was supposed to defend the interests of doctors.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/doctors-of-kyrgyzstan-with-the-covid-19-diagnosis-trade-unions-did-not-fulfill-their-mission/

Sacred worship online. How religious organizations work in Kyrgyzstan

Coronavirus restrictions have also affected the religious sphere in Kyrgyzstan

Apr 23 — “The beginning of the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims in Kyrgyzstan will be held in the state of emergency and self-isolation. In this regard, the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims (SAM) has amended the rules for its observance. In particular, believers will read the night prayer at home with their families, and it is recommended that no one be invited to iftar – when breaking the fast. The Mufti of Kyrgyzstan recorded a special appeal, where he urged Muslims to comply with quarantine rules during Ramadan.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/sacred-worship-online-how-religious-organizations-work-in-kyrgyzstan/

Kyrgyzstan law enforcement abusing coronavirus restrictions, activists say

Some of the restrictions during the state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak are creating public health hazards

Apr 24 — “Lockdowns and curfews in Kyrgyzstan have led to a surge of abusive behavior on the part of law enforcement personnel, at times creating a public health hazard, rights activists have said. In many instances, it is the police themselves who are being placed in danger. An ongoing state of emergency in place across a number of cities and districts – including the country’s two largest urban centers, Bishkek and Osh – has handed police increased powers, enabling them to interrogate people on the street, demand their documents and arbitrarily detain them with minimal cause.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-law-enforcement-abusing-coronavirus-restrictions-activists-say

TAJIKISTAN

Is Tajikistan Ready for the Economic and Social Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Tajikistan, as part of the global system, will be confronted with the consequences in any of the scenarios

Apr 17 — “The coronavirus epidemic has crossed over into pandemic and became a challenge for humanity. The pandemic not only jeopardized the health systems of countries across the globe but also emerged into a major challenge for the global economy and people’s lifestyles. The COVID-19 was confirmed in 213 countries and territories[1], and the number of infected has already exceeded 1,900,000[2] people. The virus has not spared Central Asia, and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan have introduced quarantine measures. As of today, there has not been a single case of the coronavirus infection confirmed in Tajikistan. As of late April, there are more than 1800[3] people in quarantine, implying that risk is pending in Tajikistan.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/is-tajikistan-ready-for-the-economic-and-social-impact-of-the-covid-19-pandemic/

Tajik Father Stunned By Son's Arrest In Germany On Terror Charges

The government in Dushanbe says about 2,000 Tajik nationals have traveled to Syria and Iraq in recent years to join IS militants

Apr 22 — “Vali Karimov, a taxi driver from the southern Tajik district of Muminobod, thought his son was living a respectable life in Germany with a wife he met there and the two children they've had together. That all changed on April 16 when Tajik investigators knocked on their door to ask about his 24-year-old son, Sunatulloh Karimov. That's when the family learned that Sunatulloh was one of five Tajiks arrested in Germany for allegedly plotting Islamic State (IS) terrorist attacks.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajik-father-stunned-by-sons-arrest-in-germany-as-alleged-terrorist/30570541.html

Tajikistan: Four more deaths pinned on pneumonia

President Emomali Rahmon took a bullish line last month, arguing that Tajikistan would probably dodge the coronavirus crisis

Apr 22 — “Health officials in Tajikistan’s capital on April 22 reported four more deaths that they have attributed to pneumonia. The government has denied, however, that it has so far detected the presence of COVID-19 cases in the country and has ascribed what appears to be a surge of pneumonia cases to poor weather. The representative office of the World Health Organization, or WHO, in Dushanbe has, meanwhile, lent its support to denials, saying that negative tests for coronavirus are credible.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-four-more-deaths-pinned-on-pneumonia

TURKMENISTAN

EU Takes Ashgabat's Word -- And Turkmenistan Misses Out On Millions In Coronavirus Aid

Part of the mirage the Turkmen government creates is that the energy-rich country is so well-off that it does not need foreign "charity"

Apr 21 — “Turkmenistan is a country mostly covered by deserts, which naturally are known for their mirages. From a distance, people see things in the desert that are not actually there -- often water or even an oasis. Such mirages of reality are what the Turkmen government wants people outside Turkmenistan to see.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-corovanavirus-eu-aid-millions/30567550.html

Turkmenistan’s Covid-19 Policy: Secrecy and Denial

The Turkmen authorities insist the country is virus-free, but experts warn of an impending crisis

Apr 21 — “Concerns are growing over how Turkmenistan, one of the world’s most closed societies, will deal with coronavirus as the regime continues to deny that any cases have been detected in the country. A senior official in in the public health department of a city in Turkmenistan told IWPR that four people with suspected Covid-19 had been hospitalised in the local infectious diseases hospital on April 11.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/turkmenistan-s-covid-19-policy-secrecy-and-denial/

Turkmenistan: We don’t need no free education

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

Apr 21 — “The president this week reasserted his title to the nation’s bicycling flaneur-in-chief with a 20-kilometer ride along the sunlit but eerily vacant southern edges of the capital, Ashgabat. “President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov believes that sport is essential to bolstering physical health,” intoned an April 19 state news agency report on the excursion, which also earned an 11-minute slot in the evening news.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-we-dont-need-no-free-education

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan: President nixes helicopter money idea, appeals to business community

President Mirziyoyev says businessmen can pay money to people themselves

Apr 22 — “The president of Uzbekistan has abandoned the idea of the government pumping money directly into the economy to help the country out of the current coronavirus-induced crisis and has turned instead to the business community to support the needy and unemployed. “The country has sufficient reserves to support the population and the economy. There would be no easier way than to just give money to the public,” Shavkat Mirziyoyev said in televised remarks on April 20.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-president-nixes-helicopter-money-idea-appeals-to-business-community

Uzbekistan: A timely response on learning during school closures

Connectivity is an issue in Uzbekistan, as around one-third of the population still do not have Internet access and nearly 50 percent live in rural areas

Apr 24 — “With the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), education systems are facing a new crisis worldwide. More than 180 countries (as of April 22) are mandating some form of school closures, impacting at least 1.7 billion students. Extended closures may cause not only learning losses in the short term, but also losses in human capital and diminished economic opportunities over the long term. Like many countries, Uzbekistan had to shut down all schools to prevent the spread of the virus. The decision was taken on March 15, the same day the first COVID-19 case was reported in the country.” READ MORE: https://blogs.worldbank.org/europeandcentralasia/uzbekistan-timely-response-learning-during-school-closures

Uzbekistan: Towards Religious Freedom

The authorities of Uzbekistan are trying to get rid of the negative image of the country. Uzbekistan is known as a place where the rights and freedoms of religious citizens are systematically violated

Apr 24 — “In 2019, the US State Department returned Uzbekistan to the list of countries violating religious freedoms. Although a year earlier, the agency removed the country from this list for the significant progress made by the country in the field of religious freedom, and placed it on the list of “monitored regions”. Until 2018, Uzbekistan was on the black list for more than 10 years as a “country of particular concern”. This negatively affected the international image of the republic and influenced the development of cooperation with various structures and companies of the United States.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/uzbekistan-towards-religious-freedom/

AFGHANISTAN

Coronavirus Is Pushing Afghanistan Toward a Political Crisis

Afghanistan has imposed lockdowns of varying effectiveness in most of its provinces. But lockdowns also have negative economic and public health externalities. Ordinary Afghans face a choice between dying by the coronavirus or dying by poverty

Apr 18 — “Fate has been cruel to the average Afghan over the past four decades. The country’s story, from the Soviet invasion to today’s Taliban insurgency, is well-known. Now, as the United States is in the midst of a phased withdrawal and a civil war looms, so too does the Coronavirus pandemic. The effects could compound these challenges by an insurmountable magnitude.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/blog/middle-east-watch/coronavirus-pushing-afghanistan-toward-political-crisis-145872

COVID-19 rips through fragile Afghan health system

Families, friends of frontline health workers narrate tragic tales of despair as pandemic grips vulnerable in war-ravaged country

Apr 21 — “Frontline Afghan health workers find themselves in dire straits as the coronavirus pandemic ripped through their ranks with an upward trajectory killing at least three doctors in the capital Kabul alone, officials confirmed. As the war-ravaged country grappled with the pandemic, Dr. Hanifullah Hanif, a specialist physician for internal medicine at a private hospital in the city, was the first person in the fragile health system to lose his life to the virus.” READ MORE: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/covid-19-rips-through-fragile-afghan-health-system-/1812821#

Kosim Bekmuhammad: Kabul is mistaken thinking that that the Taliban will become part of the government

If the United Stated leaves Afghanistan, Central Asia could become a corridor through which radical movements will carry out hostile actions against Russia and China, a Tajik expert says

Apr 22 — “The presidential elections in Afghanistan, held in September last year, did not resolve the issue of creation of an authoritative power recognized by the majority of the population and the international community. Three months after the election date in late December, Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan declared Ashraf Ghani the winner with 50.64% of the votes. Another candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, who garnered about 40% of the votes according to official figures, rejected the election results and also declared himself president. Majority of the other politicians who participated in the elections also did not recognize the announced results.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/kosim-bekmuhammad-kabul-is-mistaken-thinking-that-that-the-taliban-will-become-part-of-the-government/

WORLD

Central Asian Rail Deal Allowing China to Bypass Russia, Expand Trade with Europe

Russia is likely to see its influence in Central Asia and Iran decline even further as China expands both its rail traffic and political role in both

Apr 23 — “For the last two decades, Moscow has counted on Beijing’s regular use of Russian railways to export Chinese goods to Europe. In turn, China’s reliance on Russian rail was based on the presumption that any substitute overland route via Central Asia would be hampered by the need for goods to be offloaded onto ships to cross the Caspian Sea and then reloaded on the other side. However, increasing cooperation between China, the Central Asian countries, and Iran signals that Beijing may soon be able to ship goods to and from Europe by train without the time-intensive process of having to transfer them to ships on the Caspian.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/central-asian-rail-deal-allowing-china-to-bypass-russia-expand-trade-with-europe/

China Is the Ultimate Geopolitical Paper Tiger And America Must Challenge It

The United States is challenging China for the first time since Richard Nixon opened the door to Chinese economic expansion in the seventies

Apr 23 — “The Western World’s attempt to bring China into the world of Democratic nations using economic incentives has failed. The laissez-faire approach favored by the West has revealed China and its leadership do not intend to allow their country to enter the modern era of personal freedom. Although China has embraced modern economics and the advance of technology this has not led to the adoption of a modern political and human-rights ideology.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/feature/china-ultimate-geopolitical-paper-tiger-and-america-must-challenge-it-147326

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