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Central Asia in Focus: August 23, 2022

A green armored vehicle that resembles a cross between a car and a tank.
Kyrgyzstan – The armored vehicle found at the co-owner of the company “Umut and Co.”

What’s Happening in the Region

Beware the Kyrgyz Ice Cream Man

Elite troops from Kyrgyzstan’s security service detained Zhurat Abdullaev, the co-owner of Umut and Co.

search of Abdullaev’s Bishkek home and workplace on August 19 revealed a small arsenal of weapons and equipment, including machine guns and other firearms, grenades, military uniforms, helmets, bullet-resistant vests, masks, ammunition, and a BRDM-2 amphibious armored vehicle with a “combat tank machine gun Kalashnikov caliber 7.62 mm.”

Abdullaev seemed to be a normal businessman. He’s never made the news before. Reports do not mention him having a previous criminal record.

The security service statement on Abdullaev noted “in everyday life he wears a military uniform (camouflage) and has a tendency to manifestations of aggression, which prompted him to acquire and illegally store these weapons.”

RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service, known locally as Azattyk, reported that Abdullaev’s “’Umut & Co’ is known as one of the largest Kyrgyz producers of dairy products and ice cream.”

This could just be another tale of a gun nut or survivalist, but this is Kyrgyzstan, a country that has seen three revolutions since 2005, interethnic violence that left more than 400 people dead in June 2010, and where Kyrgyz troops have been in shoot-outs with members of terrorist groups several times since 1999.

It’s disturbing to think an angry ice cream man had enough weapons and equipment for a small band of fighters.

Credit to the security service for uncovering the stash of weapons and hopefully there will be more information about how an individual was able to acquire such an arsenal.

Why It’s Important: In any country it would be troubling to learn a citizen was able to amass a large amount of military weapons.

For reasons mentioned above, it is more alarming to see this in Kyrgyzstan where tensions have boiled over several times already with tragic results.

There was unrest in Bishkek during all three revolutions, but especially in the 2010 revolution when 87 people were killed in the Kyrgyz capital on April 7 (and 12 more later died from wounds) by security forces.

Throw an angry man with an armored vehicle and some friends armed with machine guns into the mix and the devastation could be far worse if unrest breaks out again.

Waiting for a Genuine Kazakh Opposition Party to Be Registered

About 20 people gathered in Almaty, Kazakhstan on June 21 demanding the Justice Ministry register the Alga (Forward) Kazakhstan party.

The meeting was a reminder that there are still no opposition parties registered in Kazakhstan. It’s also a reminder of the problems opposition parties face in Kazakhstan as they try to conduct activities.

The meeting was unsanctioned.

Alga Kazakhstan attempted to obtain permission for the meeting, but city authorities said the designated area for public gatherings was not available on the date Alga Kazakhstan requested as part of it was being repaired and an outdoor market was taking place in the other section.

Alga Kazakhstan handed in registration documents to the Justice Ministry a few months ago, but on May 5 the Justice Ministry handed the forms back saying there were problems with some of the 1,600 names on the registration petition.

The Justice Ministry didn’t specify which names.

Not being able to reserve a venue for meetings has been a constant problem for opposition parties in their quest to attract public attention, get registered, and participate in elections.

A May 12 press conference to announce the founding of the Bizdin Tandau party was canceled when the hotel where they booked a reception hall suddenly canceled the reservation.

Two other opposition parties, the Our Right, and Democratic Party of Kazakhstan also remain unregistered, though they have handed in their documents to the Justice Ministry several times.

Why It’s Important: Kazakhstan adopted amendments to the constitution in a national referendum on June 5. More powers were given to the parliament.

Kazakhstan’s last parliamentary elections were on January 10, 2021, but after the amendments were passed there are expectations new parliamentary elections are coming soon.

Those amendments were supposed to usher in a New Kazakhstan that would include opposition parties having candidates in elections, but Alga Kazakhstan cannot even get permission for a public meeting and it looks unlikely any opposition parties will be registered in time for the expected snap elections.

So, opposition groups will remain on the sidelines of Kazakhstan’s politics, without a voice inside the government, and watch as pro-presidential parties pack parliament with their representatives as they have for nearly 20 years.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

On the latest Majlis podcast, we look at the Tajik government’s wide-ranging crackdown. It is not only the ongoing campaign against influential figures from the Pamiri community in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, but also figures from the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, as well as journalists, bloggers, and activists who have made critical remarks about the Tajik government.

This week’s guests are:

What I’m Following

Rahmon Going to GBAO

Officials in eastern Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) are preparing for a visit by President Emomali Rahmon, but it is unlikely many of the people in GBAO will welcome him. It is Rahmon’s first visit to GBAO since he ordered an antiterrorism operation there in May-June this year that left, officially 16 people dead, but many GBAO activists claim the figure is several times higher.

Who Bought the Kyrgyz Gold?

Kyrgyzstan’s National Statistics Committee published information in February that the country exported 5.6 metric tons of gold in 2021 that brought some $308 million to coffers. But in July, the committee published revised figures that showed Kyrgyzstan exported some 24.8 metric tons of gold.

Four metric tons of that was sold to Britain, one ton to Switzerland, and smaller quantities to Russia, China, Italy, and Turkey.

The government said the remaining 19.2 metric tons, worth some $1.1 billion, was exported to an “unspecified country.”

Fact of the Week

During Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev’s August 17-18 visit to Saudi Arabia, an agreement was signed for Saudi company ACWA Power to construct the largest wind farm in the world in Uzbekistan. Plans call for the wind farm to generate some 1.5 gigawatts.

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See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.