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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: Avian flu kills nearly 1 million poultry

The die-off has caused a shortage of meat and eggs in markets

Oct 21 — “Around 900,000 chickens, geese and ducks have died in Kazakhstan as the result of an outbreak of avian flu that has swept across the country this fall. The die-off has reportedly caused a shortfall of poultry and eggs from markets in the capital, although there is no evidence of shortages anywhere else. The infections look to have arrived from Russia.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-avian-flu-kills-nearly-1-million-poultry

New Borat Film Offends, But Will More Kazakhs Get The Joke This Time?

The first Borat film prompted bans and threats of international legal action from infuriated officials in the former Soviet republic in Central Asia

Oct 23 — “Unlike his best-known alter ego, Borat Sagdiyev, British-born comedian Sacha Baron Cohen isn't in it to win friends. Not among religious and cultural conservatives. Not among the political elite in the United States. (Just ask Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.) And certainly not within the Kazakh government.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/new-borat-film-offends-but-will-more-kazakhs-get-the-joke-this-time-/30908753.html

Kazakhstan’s Futuristic Finance Center Becomes Breeding Ground For New Fintech

The development and maturity of the fintech startup ecosystem within Central Asian countries are mostly all early stage when comparing to already established markets like the U.S., China, Europe and Israel

Oct 23 — “One guy makes a solar charging all weather coat; another builds the country’s best app. The latter became London’s second biggest IPO this month and it came from a company no one has heard of, unless they live in Russia or Kazakhstan. The fintech firm Kaspi.kz saw its shares rise 26% when it listed on the London Stock Exchange on October 15. Kaspi priced its initial public offering at $33.75, securing an overall valuation of $6.5 billion. The stock is now trading over $41.70.” READ MORE: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2020/10/23/kazakhstans-futuristic-finance-center-becomes-breeding-ground-for-new-fintech/#3517b052432c

KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan: Living in the shadow of a sleeping Chinese oil refinery

The country's largest oil refinery is no stranger to scandals

Oct 22 — “When the coronavirus arrived, the Chinese-owned Junda oil refinery in Kara-Balta ground to a halt. And that provokes mixed feelings in this northern Kyrgyzstan town. For those who grumbled at the damage the plant is believed to have wrought on people’s health and on crops, not to speak of the stinking sulphureous fumes, the pause has come as a welcome reprieve. But when any company comes along to a place like Kara-Balta, a town of 40,000 people a one-and-a-half-hour drive from the capital, Bishkek, it is often a reason for cheer.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-living-in-the-shadow-of-a-sleeping-chinese-oil-refinery

Who is Acting President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Zhaparov? Here’s the Explanation

Back in early October, ex-deputy Sadyr Zhaparov was in detention, and two weeks later he took over the reins of the country

Oct 22 — “Back in early October, Sadyr Zhaparov who was serving his 10-year-term in prison for organisation of mass disorders could not imagine how his fate would reverse in the following weeks. After his release on the night of October 5 to 6 by his followers, Zhaparov was appointed by a group of parliamentarians to the post of prime minister. On October 14, his former appointment was confirmed by the legitimate session of the parliament and by presidential decree. On the following day, after the immediate resignation of President Zheenbekov and the parliamentary speaker’s refusal to act as president, Sadyr Zhaparov became the actual head of the state.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/who-is-acting-president-of-kyrgyzstan-sadyr-zhaparov-here-s-the-explanation

Kyrgyzstan’s Japarov: Revolutionary crime-fighting anti-corruption crusader?

Early arrests and appointments are sending decidedly mixed messages

Oct 23 — “On October 16, 11 days after he was sprung from jail, Kyrgyzstan’s new leader Sadyr Japarov laid out a manifesto of sorts, with the fight against crime and corruption getting top billing. Speaking of the turbulence that paved his path to power, Japarov said it had “opened a new page in the history of the revival of national identity.” The upcoming war on corruption would be based on “simple and enforceable laws that work the same for everyone,” he said.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstans-japarov-revolutionary-crime-fighting-anti-corruption-crusader

TAJIKISTAN

Suicides rising among women in Tajikistan

When a young woman in Tajikistan gets married, she often moves in with her husband and in-laws and is expected to serve the family. In this context, abuse and bullying can take place, and seeking outside help is frowned upon

Oct 20 — “While mental health is already a worldwide concern during the pandemic, Tajikistan is the poorest country in the former Soviet Union, making its citizens especially vulnerable. Without a national mental health program, people who are struggling with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts have few places to go for help.” READ MORE: https://www.mnnonline.org/news/suicides-rising-among-women-in-tajikistan/

Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as Possible Drivers of Regional Cooperation in Central Asia

Reestablished ties between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, despite the bilateral nature, can play a definitive role in bolstering intra-regional co-operation

Oct 22 — “As history has shown, the states of Central Asia in modern times are not ready to start integration processes, demonstrating only a focus on the beginning of regional cooperation. The current leaders of the Central Asian countries prefer to maintain their autonomy both in domestic and foreign policy, and the concept of “independence” and “sovereignty” for the leaders of the regional countries, without exception, is sacred.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/tajikistan-and-uzbekistan-as-possible-drivers-of-regional-cooperation-in-central-asia

Tajikistan: With the election over, food prices soar

The Tajik somoni has slumped against the dollar on the black market

Oct 22 — “As the presidential election becomes a fast-fading recent memory for people in Tajikistan, prices for staple goods have begun to soar. Bazaars and stores have not seen such a rush on groceries since March, when alarm surged over the prospect of authorities sealing borders as a preventative measure against the spread of COVID-19. Back then, sugar and flour was hard to find in retail spots. Food warehouses emptied too. Now, traders say prices are spiking as a result of the national currency, the somoni, slumping against the dollar.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-with-the-election-over-food-prices-soar

TURKMENISTAN

In Turkmenistan, Subsidized Food Comes With Strings Attached

The tightly controlled Central Asian nation has faced years of food shortages and price hikes

Oct 19 — “Fizzy drinks. Fruit jelly. Juice. They're not on everyone's grocery list. But shoppers in Turkmenistan complain that state-run grocery stores have informally adopted a rule that is making it even harder for them to endure the country's protracted economic malaise. When they turn up to buy the subsidized staples that have become a necessity for many of Turkmenistan's 6 million people -- bread, cooking oil, rice -- customers say they're being forced to buy locally made products that they don't want or need.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-subsidized-food-strings-attached-shortages-economy/30901417.html

Turkmenistan: Going donuts

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

Oct 20 — “Things may be tough in Turkmenistan these days, but at least some smokers can again relieve their stress with a cheap puff. Amsterdam-based Turkmen.news reported last week on the appearance of relatively affordable cigarettes at a couple of stores in the western city of Turkmenbashi. Packs were selling at 30 manat apiece (about $1.30 at the black-market rate), so long as buyers agreed to pick up two bottles of water too.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-going-donuts

'Distancing' Grounds Russian Learning In Turkmen Schools, Despite Parental Pushback

Russian-language instruction is highly regarded in many quarters of Turkmenistan

Oct 21 — “Just days left before the end of this year's enrollment season in Turkmenistan, a handful of schools in the capital and other cities sharply curbed their offerings in Russian. The move, blamed on anti-coronavirus measures, created more than a few meters of distancing for many of the affected students. Parents with the time and resources -- and whose children wanted or needed instruction in Russian, which is no longer an official language in Turkmenistan -- had about 48 hours to find other options.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/distancing-grounds-russian-learning-in-turkmen-schools-despite-parental-pushback/30905262.html

UZBEKISTAN

A Real Opportunity for Religion Law Reform in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan has a real opportunity to cement its significant gains, turn away from its authoritarian past, and reclaim its place as a Central Asian leader

Oct 16 — “Uzbekistan is undertaking a significant reform effort with President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s leadership. Very soon, Uzbekistan will have a unique opportunity to make lasting legal reforms on freedom of religion or belief. Hopefully, the country will not miss this opportunity to chart a new course and break conclusively from its authoritarian past.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/10/a-real-opportunity-for-religion-law-reform-in-uzbekistan/

Will Uzbekistan Seat on UN Human Rights Council Bolster Justice?

Reform-minded officials and lawmakers point to considerable progress in the four years since President Mirziyoyev took power. There is greater freedom in every sphere, they say, highlighted by an emboldened domestic media that has not shied away from covering long-standing problems

Oct 22 — “Uzbekistan is poised to join the U.N. Human Rights Council in January alongside two authoritarian stalwarts, Russia and China. But while Western capitals deride Moscow and Beijing’s membership, they have welcomed Tashkent’s accession as an opportunity to advance that Central Asian country’s stuttering human rights reforms.” READ MORE: https://www.voanews.com/south-central-asia/will-uzbekistan-seat-un-human-rights-council-bolster-justice

Poll shows Uzbeks, like neighbors, growing leery of Chinese investments

Uzbekistan logs the biggest increase in ambivalence toward China

Oct 22 — “The longer Central Asians host Chinese investors, the less they seem to like them. That's one of the key takeaways from two years of survey data provided exclusively to Eurasianet by Central Asia Barometer, one of the few independent pollsters based in the region. Central Asia Barometer sampled Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan this past July (by phone due to COVID-19) and last autumn (in person) on attitudes toward foreign direct investment from China.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/poll-shows-uzbeks-like-neighbors-growing-leery-of-chinese-investments

AFGHANISTAN

HOW RUSSIA VIEWS AFGHANISTAN TODAY

Recently, Moscow has started to make adjustments to its Afghan strategy

Oct 19 — “As with many contemporary issues of its foreign and security policy, history influences Moscow’s attitudes towards Afghanistan. Since the 19th century, Afghanistan has been an object of competition between Russia and other global powers. A particularly interesting example is the mission of Maj. Gen. N.G. Stoletov of Russia’s general staff to Kabul in 1878, during the era of the “Great Game” between the Russian and British empires. The two empires and the other great powers of Europe were meeting at the time at the Berlin Congress, which followed the Russian-Turkish War of 1877 to 1878, and Stoletov’s visit to the Afghan capital was a means of exerting pressure on Britain half a world away at the Congress.” READ MORE: https://warontherocks.com/2020/10/russias-contemporary-afghan-policy/

Can China be a peacemaker in Afghanistan?

China has so far stayed on the sidelines of the intra-Afghan talks, but it could play a big role in ending the conflict

Oct 20 — ““China would be welcomed as an arbitrator in negotiations [for peace in Afghanistan] and should not leave matters of such a great importance solely to the US.” So said Maulana Samiul Haq, the so-called “Father of the Taliban”, in 2018. Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban finally began in September in Qatar – long after the stop-start US negotiations with the Taliban that have preceded the anticipated departure of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan. Both Pakistan and the US have strongly encouraged the peace process. But the idea of bringing China to the table has never manifested.” READ MORE: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/can-china-be-peacemaker-afghanistan

Afghanistan’s War Victims Demand ‘A Just Peace’ With The Taliban

As the warring Afghan parties negotiate a peace deal aimed at ending the conflict, the war’s victims say their rights and grievances have been ignored

Oct 20 — “Draped in a blue burqa, Soraya sobs inside a tattered tent at a swelling makeshift camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Afghanistan’s northern province of Balkh. Her family fled their village after her father, an impoverished laborer who had previously served in the Afghan National Army, was gunned down last week by suspected Taliban fighters in Balkh's Kishindih district.” READ MORE: https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/30903517.html

WORLD

The Security Component of the BRI in Central Asia, Part Three: China’s (Para)Military Efforts to Promote Security in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan

Central Asia—which has long remained under the Russian security umbrella—may be slowly drifting away from Moscow and towards Beijing

Oct 19 — “Addressing the 56th Munich Security Conference in February, Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev emphasized Central Asia’s strategic importance for the realization of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the crown jewel foreign policy program of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) (Belt and Road News, June 4). President Tokayev’s speech failed to mention that the opportunities for regional development along the BRI are balanced by security-related challenges. The first two articles of this series provided an overview of the general security environment in the region, followed by an analysis of the PRC`s security activities in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (China Brief, August 12). This third article will examine the PRC’s military and paramilitary security initiatives in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan—three of the larger and more economically developed countries in the macro-region of Central Asia.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/the-security-component-of-the-bri-in-central-asia-part-three-chinas-paramilitary-efforts-to-promote-security-in-kazakhstan-uzbekistan-and-turkmenistan/

Educating Central Asia, From Soviet Collapse to COVID-19

A glance at the development of Central Asia’s education systems, and the current challenges faced

Oct 20 — “This fall, Central Asian students — like many students around the world — returned to school amid a pandemic. While traditions of education in the region date back centuries, the base of the modern education system in Central Asia dates to the Soviet period. Each country in the region has developed in its own ways and more recently responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in different fashions. An additional challenge is the region’s booming youth population.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/10/educating-central-asia-from-soviet-collapse-to-covid-19/

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