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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: Xinjiang fugitives secure asylum status

But China appears to be trying to make sure no more escape

Oct 31 — “Four ethnic Kazakhs convicted of illegally crossing the border from China have been granted temporary refugee status by Kazakhstan, marking an apparent about-turn in its position on Beijing’s campaign of anti-Islamic repression in Xinjiang. There may be more to the decisions than meets the eye, however.” READ MORE:

Kazakhstan: Former health minister arrested

The healthcare sector has been embroiled in corruption scandals for years

Nov 3 — “The former health minister of Kazakhstan, Yelzhan Birtanov, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 early into the outbreak, has been arrested on charges of major embezzlement. The Finance Ministry’s oversight department reportedly said in a statement on November 3 that a court had authorized the detention of Birtanov, 49, pending investigations. No details have so far been disclosed.” READ MORE:

We asked Kazakh celebrities what they think of ‘Borat.’ The verdict was less than ‘very nice.’

Kazakhstan’s reaction to the sequel, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” which debuted on Amazon last month, has been mixed

Nov 5 — “Kazakhstan was thrust into a unflattering spotlight 14 years ago with Sacha Baron Cohen's hit "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." Cinemas in the former Soviet republic refused to show the film. The Kazakh government took out a four-page ad in the New York Times defending itself.” READ MORE:


China business briefing: Not happy with Kyrgyzstan

During the unrest that followed legislative elections in Kyrgyzstan on October 4, Chinese businesses in the country were targeted for shakedowns nationwide, at times accompanied by violence

Nov 3 — “In Beijing, it is considered polite to message your friends when they win reelection. No stranger to protocol, President Xi Jinping fired off a quick telegram to congratulate his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon on a fifth election victory on October 12. But Xi is keeping Kyrgyzstan’s acting leader Sadyr Japarov, who muscled into power in mid-October, at arm’s length. Japarov has received no telegram. China is not happy.” READ MORE:

Kyrgyzstan: Parliament reshuffle paves way for Japarov to cement power

The new speaker of parliament is an old and close ally to Japarov

Nov 4 — “A close ally of Kyrgyzstan’s acting head of state has taken up the post of parliament speaker in a rotation of personnel intended to tee up next year’s presidential elections. Talant Mamytov was on November 4 voted into the job as speaker by 100 of the legislature’s 120 members. Another lawmaker, Akylbek Sariyev, got the backing of only 64 colleagues. The previous occupant of the post, Kanat Isayev, who had been in the job for less than a month, announced his resignation earlier in the day and said he intended to run in the January 10 presidential election.” READ MORE:

Could the Growing National Debt of Kyrgyzstan Lead to Default?

In the event of financial instability in Kyrgyzstan, multilateral creditors may increase the interest rates on loans or even refuse from further financing

Nov 4 — “Since gaining independence, the foreign national debt of Kyrgyzstan has been growing continuously. By 2019, Kyrgyzstan had an external debt of $ 3.85 billion USD (about 54% of GDP).[1] In addition, over the six months of the current year, the external debt of Kyrgyzstan increased by another 8.3%[2] – the second highest indicator since independence – although there is every chance of becoming the first by the end of the year. Considering the plans of the Kyrgyz governments to attract additional external borrowing to finance the budget deficit and mitigate the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as taking into account the recent political events after the parliamentary elections, a fair question arises about the sustainability of national debt in the future.” READ MORE:


Meat, Butter Considered 'Luxuries' As Tajiks Face Steep Price Hikes

Tajikistan, the poorest country in Central Asia, is experiencing steep price hikes on food that have put a further strain on a population that is already struggling to put adequate supplies on their tables

Nov 1 — “Ozoda is making mantu, a traditional Tajik dumpling dish for dinner, but instead of meat she fills the dough wrappings with chopped onion and potatoes. “My children complained about eating pumpkin mantu every time, so I’m putting potatoes in this time -- we can’t afford meat anymore,” Ozoda, a mother of four in Tajikistan’s Sughd Province said. “We survive on bread, pasta, pumpkin, and potatoes.” READ MORE:

Is This Tajikistan’s #MeToo Moment?

Could a court decision punishing a victim of sexual harassment and the newspaper that helped her be Tajikistan’s #MeToo moment?

Nov 3 — “Last week a court in Tajikistan ruled that a young woman who spoke publicly about sexual harassment she suffered and the newspaper that covered her harrowing story should pay damages to her alleged abuser. Yes, you read that right: The alleged perpetrator of workplace abuse did not simply avoid being held accountable, a judge granted his demand that the woman who dared complain about his harassment and the journalists who investigated her claims owe him monetary compensation.” READ MORE:

Tajikistan: Somoni slides by 10 percent overnight

Prices for staple goods, which had already been rising, will now surge further

Nov 4 — “Tajikistan’s currency lost 10 percent of its value against the dollar in an overnight correction that the National Bank said on November 4 was intended to harmonize official and black-market rates. The somoni is now trading at 11.3 to the dollar, down from 10.3 somoni. The gap between official and unofficial rates began to manifest in a pronounced fashion in 2016, after the financial regulator ordered the closure of all unauthorized currency exchange points. After that, only banks were able to perform foreign exchange operations. Any currency exchange transactions done outside banks are punishable by up to nine years in prison.” READ MORE:


'Turkmenistan's Tsikhanouskaya': Activist Determined To Fight For Democratic Change, Says 'We Are Not Afraid Anymore'

Turkmen migrant worker-turned-activist Dursoltan Taganova has become one of the most feared opposition figures for the authoritarian government in Ashgabat

Nov 3 — “Turkmen migrant worker Dursoltan Taganova became politically active just a few months ago when she began sharing anti-government statements on social media and attended Turkmen opposition rallies in Turkey, where she lives. The 29-year-old native of Turkmenistan's Lebap Province became the face of the Turkmen opposition movement abroad while spending some three months in a deportation facility after being detained at a protest at the Turkmen Consulate in Istanbul.” READ MORE:

Turkmenistan: The mirage of bounty

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

Nov 3 — “State media in Turkmenistan talks a lot about food these days. Rysgal, a newspaper owned by the parastatal Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan, had a colorful spread on the topic in its November 2 issue. One piece tells the story of the farmer Sarybay Hanbayev, who the newspaper says has had a bountiful yield of cherries, plums, applies, pears, grapes, potatoes, onions and squashes on his 100 hectares (250 acres) of land in the Dashoguz province. One five-hectare section alone produces 50 tons of grapes – a decent amount for the challenging soil of Turkmenistan.” READ MORE:

Turkmen diplomats persecute Turkmen activists abroad accusing them of terrorism

Turkmen civil society is emerging abroad among Turkmen migrants and expats living outside their authoritarian home country

Nov 5 — “Chairperson of Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights Tadjigul Begmedova told “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” that on 25 October, 2020 two Turkmen nationals, who had planned to hold a protest in front of Turkmenistan’s Consulate, were detained in Istanbul. Earlier that day a group of Turkmen activists «Turkmenistan Halk Hereketi» intended to hold a protest in the run-up to the former date of Independence Day, which used to be celebrated on 27 October before 2018 but later was later changed to 27 September for unknown reasons.” READ MORE:


Uzbekistan: Kubatin, rehabilitated Turkic studies scholar, dies with COVID-19

The scholar's release from prison marked an unusual development in Uzbekistan

Nov 2 — “Andrei Kubatin, a specialist on the history of the Turkic world who spent almost three years in prison in Uzbekistan on widely criticized treason charges, died with COVID-19 on October 29. He was 36-years-old. Kubatin came to the attention of the broader public in 2017, when he was sentenced to 11 years in prison by a Tashkent court for purportedly conniving to hand classified materials to the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, Ankara’s foreign aid agency, in exchange for money.” READ MORE:

Uzbekistan not even close to meriting EU's trade scheme

In responding to Uzbekistan's GSP+ bid, the EU commission is now tasked to check whether there are serious failures in the country's effective implementation of core human rights treaties

Nov 4 — “Imagine a man has for years been nasty to his family. One day he starts being a little bit nicer to them and promises to get much better in future. Is this the time to give him a citizenship award for his slight change in behaviour? That's essentially the question the European Union is facing over its relations with Uzbekistan. Some in Brussels think such a prize is already due, despite the fact that the central Asian country over decades has had one of the world's worst human rights records.” READ MORE:

Israeli Companies Are Already Enjoying the Warming Relations with Uzbekistan

Though ties between Israel and Uzbekistan are quiet, they have been welcomed

Nov 5 — “As Israel solidifies peace agreements with three Arab nations, Israeli companies are already taking advantage of the warming relations with the former Soviet Central Asian country Uzbekistan. In September, the glass ceiling was broken when Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and later Bahrain, announced that they would be normalizing relations, ending Israel’s isolation in the Arab world. The succeeding peace agreements, called the “Abraham Accords”, focused on quickly strengthening economic ties, including with some of Israel’s leading start-up companies.” READ MORE:


For future prosperity, Afghanistan must look north

Afghanistan is not part of the Middle East, and referring to it as part of the so-called “broader Middle East” is also misleading. At least half of the country is culturally, historically, economically and geographically part of Central Asia

Oct 30 — “When the international community talks about a “regional solution” for Afghanistan, mostly it is referring to the situation in Pakistan. Sometimes the regional solution is expanded to include India and China. Until recently, it was rare for the Central Asian republics to be discussed in this context. This is because many people fail to see Afghanistan for what it really is — a Central Asian country.” READ MORE:

Taliban Aims Multipronged Offensive At Second Afghan City

Kandahar, a former seat of Afghan empires in the 18th century, holds a pivotal political significance in Afghanistan

Nov 5 — “An offensive by Afghanistan’s Taliban militants appears to be aimed at reclaiming Afghanistan’s second city, which once served as the capital for the hard-line movement nearly a quarter-century ago. Hundreds of insurgents, civilians, and soldiers have reportedly been killed and thousands of villagers have so far been displaced during nearly 10 days of fighting around the city of Kandahar, capital of a key province by the same name. In a concerted move, large numbers of Taliban fighters forced outnumbered Afghan troops to retreat from parts of serval rural districts.” READ MORE:

Entrepreneurship, Conflict And Private Sector In Afghanistan – OpEd

Entrepreneurship and private sector can be important elements to restore the war-affected economy and institutions of Afghanistan

Nov 6 — “Afghanistan is amongst one of the poorest countries in the world with an estimated per capita income of 502 US dollars and average mortality age of 64 years in 2019. Progress on to a path of economic and socio-political recovery has been arduous and slow in Afghanistan they country is deeply fallen down to the poverty. In recent years’ government and foreign partners, supported programs and policies have increasingly been concerned about the development of the private sector, besides the National Export Strategy also focus on the development of the private sector.” READ MORE:


Central Asia: A region gaining more from Beijing than Washington D.C.

The absence of a comprehensive Central Asian policy under Trump has paved the way for China and Russia to more clearly project their interests in the heart of Asia

Nov 2 — “In February 2020 the Trump administration renewed its strategy in Central Asia which, in the recent decades, has come under the increasing influence of China. The US has come to recognise the region—referred to as the “heart of Asia”—as crucial not only in its race with China for global dominance, but also in its efforts to fortify its position in its geopolitical rivalry with Russia. The renewed strategy came after a gap of five years and followed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Central Asia to participate in a C5+1 High Level Dialogue.” READ MORE:

Russia changes its policy of interaction with Central Asia

Until Moscow recognized Central Asia as a single entity, most of the Western political analysts argued that Russia had specifically collaborated with each of the countries in the region separately, hinting that Russia adheres to the old colonialist "divide and rule" principle

Nov 5 — “On October 16, Russia held its meeting with the foreign ministers of all five Central Asian countries in the "5+1" format. From now on, Moscow will develop not only bilateral ties but also formally regard Central Asia as a united region. The "5+1" format, in which Central Asia states hold regular meetings with a single country outside the region, is not a new arrangement.” READ MORE:


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