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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

Life On Hold: Fearing Discrimination, Kazakh Pair Keeps Gender On The Q.T.

Kazakh society’s attitude toward LGBT communities appears to be gradually relaxing, especially in the cities, but homophobia is still prevalent

May 19 — “Danagul grew up feeling she was born in the wrong body. After spending her childhood and adolescence in confusion and fruitless attempts to explain her feelings to her parents, Danagul moved out of her native south Kazakhstan once she finished school. In public, Danagul is a 23-year-old man named Daniyar, as stated in her passport. In private, however, she identifies herself as a pansexual, transgender woman.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/life-on-hold-fearing-discrimination-kazakh-pair-keeps-gender-on-the-q-t-/30621098.html

Kazakhstan is an anti-pandemic model for Central Asia

Kazakhstan has been a regional leader during the COVID-19 crisis

May 20 — “The novel coronavirus has spread throughout the world and Kazakhstan has been no exception. This has been a difficult time for many, many people. Some have lost their incomes and their jobs, at least temporarily. Others have had their lives completely disrupted. In response, the government has taken many steps to protect its citizens from the infection and to help them overcome the economic challenges caused by the virus-related shutdown. In doing so, it has become a leader in the entire Central Asian region.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/may/20/kazakhstan-is-an-anti-pandemic-model-for-central-a/

Kazakhstan: Controversial law portends struggle over coronavirus vaccine

Without credible media, a lack of trust in government seems to be fueling anti-vaccination campaigns, pandemic be damned

May 20 — “Old rumors about vaccinations have acquired a new urgency in Kazakhstan during the coronavirus pandemic. With few sources of independent information, and social media rife with disinformation, a draft law that would mandate some immunizations is prompting a fierce backlash online. Lawmakers began debating the bill earlier this year, before COVID-19 became a global issue, in response to a 2019 measles outbreak that was fueled by conspiracy theories and an enduring distrust in government.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-controversial-law-portends-struggle-over-coronavirus-vaccine

Kazakhstan Commits To New OPEC Agreement, Lower Oil Production

Given the significant surplus of oil reserves, the risk of oversupply in oil storage facilities remains serious

May 21 — “Kazakhstan is committed to cutting its oil production by 390,000 barrels a day as part of the newly-minted agreement between the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, known as OPEC+, which includes Kazakhstan. In April, OPEC and the OPEC+ nations agreed to a historic 10 million barrel per day production cut to tackle falling oil prices and the preceding slump in demand amid the pandemic. The cut will last through May and June.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2020/05/kazakhstan-commits-to-new-opec-agreement-lower-oil-production/

KYRGYZSTAN

Why do Kyrgyzstan's regions remain undeveloped?

The Kyrgyz administration has officially designated 2020 a year devoted to "regional development, the support of children, and the country's digitization." The two prior years also bore this labeling. Issues of development, self-sufficiency, and manageability in the regions are more acute than ever given the pandemic, the ensuing isolation – an isolation that is also internal – and the global economic crisis

May 15 — “Exposing regional problems, events this year have also underlined the importance of the country's timely digitalization. Kyrgyzstan lags behind on a number of key indicators in this regard. Issues of regional policy, including the interaction of the central authorities with local government bodies, are critical for any country. Coordination between these authorities ensures the exercise of power in every corner and facilitates feedback from the population.” READ MORE: http://longreads.cabar.asia/regions_eng

Strengthening and Vulnerability of the Kyrgyz Police in the Fight Against COVID-19

Against the background of expanding the powers of the law enforcement agencies and limiting control mechanisms, the risks of corruption, unlawful actions and abuse of authority has increased

May 19 — “The appearance of COVID-19 in Kyrgyzstan, the subsequent declaration of an emergency situation, and state of emergency in some localities, exposed a number of systemic problems in public administration. The law enforcement agencies were not an exception. They were assigned the main burden to ensure compliance with the rules, but against the background of expanding powers and limiting control mechanisms, the risks of corruption, unlawful actions and abuse of authority increased. The reform of the patrol police in Bishkek, whose main achievements and goals under the new conditions were undermined, was also under threat. However, the employees/officers themselves have been in a vulnerable position: the incidence among law enforcement officers is increasing, and there is still no clarity on compensation payments.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/strengthening-and-vulnerability-of-the-kyrgyz-police-in-the-fight-against-covid-19/

Atameken Business Channel Opens Studio in Kyrgyzstan

Local entrepreneurs agreed that they need a TV channel that covers business and economic issues in the country

May 20 — “Kazakhstan’s Atameken Business Channel began broadcasting in Kyrgyzstan on May 18 according to the company’s press service release. The TV channel is available in all regions for Aknet cable operator users. Its main mission is to create a platform for the exchange of information between the business communities of the two neighboring countries. The Atameken Business Channel is the country’s first multimedia business news channel, which covers financial, economic and political news, analysis, ratings, conclusions and projections, exchange rates and securities markets, precious metals, raw and non-raw material resources, bank news, stock exchanges, and company information.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2020/05/atameken-business-channel-opens-studio-in-kyrgyzstan/

TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan: transparency is needed to effectively fight the coronavirus [interview]

A top Tajik doctor says that the authorities were late in recognizing the existence of the coronavirus in the country

May 18 — “Cabar.asia: Tajik authorities have finally admitted that COVID-19 is present in the country. Earlier they have stated that mysterious deaths occur from pneumonia. Does this mean that Tajikistan now has both pneumonia and COVID-19?
Mirzo Hojimuhammad: The position of authorities and healthcare bodies is still unclear. Despite the recognition of COVID-19 in the country, patients with atypical pneumonia also known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) are not yet included in the statistics. However, the treatment of such patients, their relatives, and the treatment of their bodies in the event of death is the same as if they would have died from COVID-19.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/tajikistan-transparency-is-needed-to-effectively-fight-the-coronavirus-interview/

An attack that will increase self-censorship in Tajikistan

Tajik journalist Abdullo Gurbati, who has been assaulted, is confident that it was planned. Experts say that this attack has many similarities to previous attacks on journalists

May 19 — “Abdullo Gurbati, a 23-year-old correspondent for the “Asia-Plus” news agency, was beaten by two unknown men on the evening of May 11. According to Abdullo, the incident occurred around 21:20 when he was on his way home from a grocery store. According to Gurbati, he heard someone chasing him. When the journalist looked back, the attacker struck him for the first time. Afterwards, two unknown men in medical masks attacked and punched him for several minutes. The attackers ran away only when Abdullo started screaming and asking for help.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/an-attack-that-will-increase-self-censorship-in-tajikistan/

Tajikistan sees unusual protests, authorities react with force

Chinese workers rallied with a demand to be allowed to travel home

May 21 — “In an unusual development for Tajikistan, there have been two episodes of mass unrest in the past few days. Both were suppressed by force. Prague-based Akhbor news website reported that a crowd of Chinese nationals working at a metals plant in the north of the country staged an impromptu demonstration on May 20 in a demand to be allowed to travel home. Riot police dispatched to the scene, in the town of Taboshar, about 90 kilometers from the city of Khujand, dispersed the crowd of around 100 people by firing gunshots into the air.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-sees-unusual-protests-authorities-react-with-force

TURKMENISTAN

Food Shortages in Turkmenistan Lead to Rationing in State Stores

Food security in Turkmenistan has been in decline for several years

May 19 — “Isolationist Turkmenistan, which proudly claims to be COVID-19-free, has nonetheless been affected by the pandemic (Izvestia, May 10). A recent closure of its borders due to pandemic concerns has halted imports, reportedly leading to food shortages. The provincial situation became so dire before the borders were reopened that, on April 4, residents in the city of Mary (190 miles east of Ashgabat) apparently marched on the local government headquarters to protest rising food prices, dispersing only after the head regional administrator promised to resolve the issue within three days.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/food-shortages-in-turkmenistan-lead-to-rationing-in-state-stores/

A Troubled Government And Rare Protests In Turkmenistan

Public demonstrations of discontent with officials are a very risky venture in authoritarian Turkmenistan, where protests are usually dealt with quickly in arrests, detentions, or prison sentences

May 19 — “The patience of many in Turkmenistan seems to have reached its limit when it comes to poor government services and officials seemingly apathetic to the plight of the average person. One must only look at the severe drop in the standard of living in Turkmenistan during the last five years to understand people's anger. There are shortages of food, shortages of money, skyrocketing unemployment and the government -- faced with serious revenue shortfalls -- has increasingly shifted financial burdens onto the people.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/analysis-turkmenistan-s-ineffective-government-brings-people-into-the-streets-for-rare-protests/30620560.html

Turkmenistan: Day late, dollar short

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

May 19 — “One would imagine a country as equine-centered as Turkmenistan might know of the futility of shutting a stable door after the horse has bolted. And yet, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov mentioned en passant, at a Cabinet meeting earlier this month, that the impending crisis precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic might require the government to create “reserve funds to ensure macroeconomic stability.” The phrase “a day late and a dollar short” comes to mind.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-day-late-dollar-short

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan Reaches Out to Reverse Brain Drain

Prezident Shavkat Mirziyoyev has been urging Uzbeks scatterred around the world to return or find ways to contribute to the development of Uzbekistan

May 19 — “Uzbek leaders, like others in Central Asia, face an additional challenge as they marshal resources to confront a post-coronavirus future – a human capital deficit following decades in which some of its most talented citizens have left to pursue better opportunities elsewhere. Now, the nearly 4-year-old reform-minded government of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is appealing for some of those expatriates to come home.” READ MORE: https://www.voanews.com/south-central-asia/uzbekistan-reaches-out-reverse-brain-drain

Uzbekistan bristles at Russia wading into language law debate

A draft bill envision fines for officials using languages other than Uzbek in office work

May 19 — “Uzbekistan has admonished a spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry who last week complained that a draft bill envisioning fines for civil servants failing to produce official documentation exclusively in Uzbek might prove prejudicial to minority communities. The Uzbek Foreign Ministry said in a statement on May 18 that it was inappropriate for foreign officials to interfere in internal Uzbek affairs, such as the “regulation of the state language.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-bristles-at-russia-wading-into-language-law-debate

Can Mirziyoyev’s Reforms Bring About a Real Free Market Economy in Uzbekistan?

The hope that reforms will ultimately bring about free market capitalism with accompanying democratic politics is utmost naivety

May 21 — “It has been almost four years since Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev embarked on a modernization mission through a series of political and economic reforms to repair his country’s poor global reputation as repressive and isolated country. By 2019, Mirziyoyev’s political opening aimed at shaking up corrupt officials, releasing some political prisoners, and easing restrictions on the media led The Economist to name Uzbekistan its “country of the year.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/05/can-mirziyoyevs-reforms-bring-about-a-real-free-market-economy-in-uzbekistan/

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan's two wars: Terrorism and coronavirus

Afghanistan desperately needs a humanitarian ceasefire. It would not only save countless lives, ease the impact of coronavirus on the economy and prevent vulnerable Afghans from turning to terrorist groups, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States says

May 16 — “The coronavirus pandemic brings back memories of living in war. We are experiencing constant uncertainty and stress, and there is talk of food shortages. My daughter is out of school, and we do not know when she will be able to return. Many live in fear of even going outside — and this is in Washington, D.C. Afghanistan is now fighting two wars: One against terrorism and one against the coronavirus. The effects of the pandemic are dire, but they pale in comparison to the fear and struggle that have dominated our lives for the past 40 years of war.” READ MORE: https://thehill.com/opinion/international/498055-afghanistans-two-wars-terrorism-and-coronavirus

The Wild Shrub at the Root of the Afghan Meth Epidemic

For Afghan meth makers, the wild ephedra bush has been a game-changer, breathing life into a new, troubling industry

May 20 — “MUHAMMAD REHMAN SHIRZAD squints against the late afternoon sun as he scrambles up the side of a steep ravine in the district of Surobi on the eastern edge of Afghanistan’s Kabul Province. This rugged gorge, only an hour’s drive from the national capital, is a far cry from the sprawling pink-and-red poppy fields that have long put Afghanistan at the heart of the global heroin trade. But these high, rocky outcroppings are home to a plant that may soon play as central a role in the country’s drug economy as the infamous opium poppy.” READ MORE: https://undark.org/2020/05/20/afghanistan-meth-ephedra/

Despite the 'peace process', Afghanistan's anguish endures

US engagement has helped Trump but done little for Afghan civilians, as the brutal attack on a maternity hospital shows

May 20 — “Many terrible crimes have been perpetrated in Afghanistan’s 42 years of war. Yet the attack on the maternity wing of a Kabul hospital on 12 May was unprecedented and particularly devastating. Even in a country where bloodshed has become grimly familiar, this attack was unbearable.” READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/may/20/trump-political-dividend-no-peace-afghanistan

WORLD

Post-Pandemic Central Asia: Moving Beyond ‘Helicopter Money’

Social and economic upheaval at such a scale as experienced amid the COVID-19 pandemic unavoidably entails political effects

May 20 — “IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva described the scope and scale of the COVID-19 pandemic challenge bluntly: “COVID-19 has disrupted our social and economic order at lightning speed and on a scale that we have not seen in living memory.” The recent announcement by the IMF that it would provide $375 million in emergency assistance to Uzbekistan demonstrates the commitment of international financial institutions to address the economic upheaval created by the pandemic in the Central Asian region.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/05/post-pandemic-central-asia-moving-beyond-helicopter-money/

How Central Asia’s authoritarian regimes have used coronavirus to their advantage

The authoritarian governments in the former Soviet countries have responded to the pandemic by reinforcing their grip on power even further

May 21 — “The authoritarian Central Asian state of Tajikistan admitted to its first cases of COVID-19 in late April. This followed a World Health Organization (WHO) decision to dispatch a team to investigate previous claims that the country was coronavirus-free. To the west, Tajikistan’s near neighbour Turkmenistan, known as the North Korea of Central Asia, continues to report no COVID-19 cases and has avoided use of the word coronavirus as much as possible in order to deter the spread of information about the pandemic. Turkmen police have reportedly arrested citizens found to be discussing coronavirus in public, or wearing protective masks.” READ MORE: https://theconversation.com/how-central-asias-authoritarian-regimes-have-used-coronavirus-to-their-advantage-138498

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