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Central Asia in Focus: Another Winter of Energy Discontent in Kazakhstan?

In this week’s edition: will Kazakstan experience another winter of energy discontent? Plus an ethnic Karakalpak is stripped of Kazakh citizenship, and a discussion of recent protests in Kyrgyzstan against the government’s plans to introduce new tax rules for merchants at bazaars and markets.

An accident at the thermal power plant in Ekibastuz, a city of 150,000 people in northeastern Kazakhstan, left parts of the plant flooded.
An accident at the thermal power plant in Ekibastuz, a city of 150,000 people in northeastern Kazakhstan, left parts of the plant flooded.

In the Region

Another Winter of Energy Discontent in Kazakhstan?

Winter has arrived in Kazakhstan and with it, the first breakdowns in heating power and water supplies.

An accident at the Ekibastuz thermal power plant (TPP) in northeastern Kazakhstan on December 10 left parts of the plant flooded and forced the TPP to shift over to backup systems.

The Ekibastuz city administration released a statement saying the water was being pumped out and that work should be completed before the end of the day.

Residents said the temperature of the heating water being pumped to their flats had noticeably decreased.

After complaints from local residents in November, Ekibastuz Deputy Mayor Anuarbek Amanov announced on December 8 the city would be “provided with stable supply of heat.”

An accident at the Ekibastuz TPP in late November 2022 left some of the city’s residents without heating for two weeks in sub-zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures.

As a result, the provincial governor was sacked.

Amid growing criticism of negligence and corruption, the head of the TPP took his own life one week after the accident at the TPP, though officials said the suicide was due to an argument with his wife.

Residents of Ekibastuz were not the only people facing heating problems on December 10, 2023.

Problems with power stations were also reported in the eastern cities of Balkhash and Temirtau.

In Southwestern Kazakhstan, part of the Caspian coastal city of Aqtau was without heating after a pipeline rupture.

Several schools in Aqtau announced there would be no classes on December 11 due to the heating outage.

Further north along Kazakhstan’s Caspian coast, the water supply to homes in the city of Atyrau was disrupted due to ice in the Ural River clogging water intake pipes leading to the city.

Divers had to plunge into the freezing waters to break up the chunks of ice.

Why It’s Important: The winters of 2021 and 2022 clearly showed that Kazakhstan’s aging utility infrastructure is badly in need of overhaul.

For the last two years, top Kazakh officials, including the head of state, have urged and threatened local officials to take immediate measures to ensure reliable heating, electricity, and water supplies in winter.

As he has done many times in recent winters, President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev on December 11 ordered local officials and managers of the crippled plants to fix the problems immediately.

Winter had been relatively warm in Kazakhstan until the end of the first week of December. When temperatures finally plunged, the heating and water supplies in several cities were disrupted.

Colder days are coming and people in Kazakhstan must already be wondering if this winter they can rely on their local power and water systems to get them through to spring.

Ethnic Karakalpak Stripped of Kazakh Citizenship

Nietbay Urazbaev, a leading member of Kazakhstan’s ethnic Karakalpak community has been stripped of his Kazakh citizenship, raising concerns he could be deported to Uzbekistan.

The Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR) released a statement on December 5 saying the Kazakh decision came “after intervention from the Uzbek side.”

According to the KIBHR, Uzbek authorities now claim Urazbaev failed to properly annul his Uzbek citizenship, and therefore is still a citizen of Uzbekistan.

Authorities in Kazakhstan’s western Mangystau Province, where Urazbaev lives, have accepted this explanation from Uzbekistan and annulled Urazbaev’s Kazakh citizenship.

Urazbaev moved from Uzbekistan to Kazakhstan in 2004 and has been working with the regional Karakalpak national-cultural association in the Kazakh Caspian coastal city of Aqtau since 2007.

Uzbek authorities have implicated Urazbaev in the violence in Uzbekistan’s western Karakalpakstan Republic at the beginning of July 2022.

The violence started after Uzbek media published proposed amendments to the constitution that would have annulled Karakalpakstan’s nominal sovereignty.

Officially, 21 people were killed in the unrest and at least 243 others were injured.

Urazbaev was in Kazakhstan when the violence broke out, though he did post a video where he criticized the proposed amendments.

In May 2023, an Uzbek court ruled Urazbaev helped organize the protests and sentenced him in absentia to 12 years in prison.

Urazbaev says the process of canceling his Uzbek citizenship was completed in 2017 and he handed over his Uzbek passport at that time to the Uzbek consulate in Kazakhstan.

Urazbaev used a Kazakh passport to travel to Karakalpakstan several times between 2018-2021 and said he never had any problems with Uzbek authorities.

Why It’s Important: Urazbaev is not the only ethnic Karakalpak in Kazakhstan whom Uzbek authorities are seeking to have extradited.

There are at least five others, all of whom are citizens of Uzbekistan and who were detained in Kazakhstan at the request of Uzbek authorities, but have since been released.

All five are seeking asylum, preferably somewhere outside Central Asia.

Urazbaev’s case might give a signal about what these other five Karakalpak activists in Kazakhstan can expect.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at the recent protests in Kyrgyzstan against the government’s plans to introduce new tax rules for merchants at bazaars and markets.

Protests over politics, the socio-economic situation, environmental concerns, and other issues have been common in Kyrgyzstan since the country became independent in late 1991.

However, in the last two years, authorities have managed to prevent public displays of discontent.

What does the actions of these unhappy merchants tell us about protest culture in Kyrgyzstan?

This week’s guests are:

What I’m Following

Shorter Winters, Longer Summers in Kyrgyzstan

President of Kyrgyzstan’s National Academy of Sciences Kanat Abdrakhmatov gave some alarming figures about climate change in Kyrgyzstan.

Abdrakhmatov said that since 1991, the average number of days of winter in the country has decreased from 95 to 71 and the average number of summer days has increased from 145 to 154.

Somber figures for a country that has just gone through three straight years of drought.

Karakalpak Activist Tortured in Uzbekistan

Imprisoned Karakalpak activist Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov is being subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment, according to his lawyer.

Tazhimuratov was convicted of being the main organizer of protests in the Karakalpakstan capital Nukus in early July 2022 that turned violent and left at least 21 people dead.

He was sentenced to 16 years in prison, though rights organizations and activists have criticized the investigation and trial process against Tazhimuratov.

His attorney Sergei Mayorov visited Tazhimuratov on November 28 and posted a statement on X on December 5.

Mayorov said Tazhimuratov is not allowed to send or receive letters, is kept in isolation, and must “express his gratitude” and then “sing the anthem of Uzbekistan” to prison guards when they bring him food.

Fact of the Week

According to the World Population Review, on average, one citizen of Kyrgyzstan migrates to another country every 53 minutes.

Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading Central Asia in Focus! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who may be interested.

Feel free to contact me on X, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia. See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.

Until next time,