Search RFE/RL

Central Asia in Focus: Central Asian Migrants in Russia Living in Fear after Terrorist Attack

In this week’s edition: Central Asian migrants in Russia are living in fear after the recent terror attack, the Kyrgyz government says it foiled an attempt to assassinate top Kyrgyz officials, and more.

RUSSIA – Clockwise from top left: Dalerjon Mirzoev, Faridun Shamsiddin, Muhammadsobir Faizov, and Saidakram Rajabalizoda attend a remand hearing at the Basmanny District Court on March 24, 2024. (TASS).

In the Region

Central Asian Migrants in Russia Living in Fear after Terrorist Attack

Following the March 22 attack at Moscow’s Crocus City Hall, rumors spread quickly on social media that some of the attackers were Tajiks.

Some of those social media posts were proven false, and many other details about the assailants are unclear.

The Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) claimed the attack and posted video from a body cam allegedly worn by one of the assailants.

Tajik nationals who are ISKP members have carried out recent attacks in Afghanistan and Iran, and several Tajik citizens were arrested in Austria and Germany in late 2023 on charges of plotting attacks.

Allegations that Tajik nationals were involved sparked a wave of racism in Russia against Central Asians and that situation is likely to become worse.

Working and living in Russia has already been difficult enough for many Central Asians, who number at least several million.

Names and photographs of three Tajiks were posted on social media on March 23 claiming they were among the attackers. But they couldn’t have been involved.

Two of the three had worked in Russia but were already back in Tajikistan. And the third man was working in the Russian city of Samara, some 650 miles from Moscow.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said they detained 11 people involved in the attack and four of the suspects were identified as Tajiks.

There is so far no evidence the Tajik suspects apprehended by the FSB had any connection to the events at Crocus City Hall.

Stories of discrimination against Tajiks in Russia started to appear shortly after the appearance of social media posts blaming Tajiks for the act of terrorism.

One article reported Tajik migrant laborers working for taxi apps in Russian cities were receiving messages from their clients asking, “What is your ethnicity? If you are Tajik, cancel my ride…”

Another report said evictions of Tajiks from their flats in Russia had already started and other Tajiks are afraid to leave their homes.

Other Central Asians are also experiencing discrimination.

Kyrgyz citizens arriving at Moscow’s Domodyedevo airport are being held at the airport, some for two days.

Raids are being conducted in dormitories where Central Asian migrant laborers are known to be living.

And that was in the first 48 hours after the attack. 

Why It’s Important: For Central Asian migrant workers in Russia and Central Asians with Russian citizenship, the attack signals the start of a period of heightened suspicion, racism, and abuse.

Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry informed its citizens not to travel to Russia in the coming days unless absolutely necessary.

Other Central Asian governments are likely to issue similar warnings, and that will have a negative effect on needed remittances sent back from Russia.

An Assassination Attempt Against Kyrgyz Officials?

Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security (UKMK) says it foiled an attempt by a transnational organized crime group to assassinate top Kyrgyz officials.

UKMK said on March 23 that it detained five members of an Azerbaijani criminal group, sent to Kyrgyzstan to kill Kyrgyz officials overseeing the campaign against organized criminal organizations in Kyrgyzstan.

The person who allegedly sent the five would-be assassins is Raimbek Matraimov, a former Kyrgyz Customs Service deputy chief and suspected underworld leader.

The UKMK also said Matraimov is believed to currently be in Baku, Azerbaijan after fleeing Kyrgyzstan and that Kyrgyzstan has requested Azerbaijani authorities detain and extradite him.

It is a bizarre twist to a long-running story.

Matraimov has long been suspected of being a major criminal figure in Kyrgyzstan.

He was the subject of an in-depth joint report by RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, Azattyk; Kloop Media; Bellingcat; and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

That report showed that Matraimov had siphoned off hundreds of millions of dollars when he was an official in Kyrgyzstan’s Customs Service.

Matraimov has been on the U.S. Department of Treasury’s sanctions list for corruption since December 2020, but for years he moved around freely in Kyrgyzstan.

Why It’s Important: The UKMK has not released details about the alleged plot or targets.

If true, it is concerning that transnational criminal groups would work to kill government officials in Kyrgyzstan, but there is no proof yet to support the UKMK’s claims.

It is also possible that, faced with a severe electricity crisis, impending agricultural problems due to drought, and failure to resolve critical socio-economic problems, the government is courting public sympathy. 

Majlis Podcast

The most recent Majlis podcast looks at what is behind Turkmenistan’s sudden advertising blitz to find new customers for its natural gas.

In the first weeks of March, Turkmen officials publicly commented on their desire to sell gas to Azerbaijan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Kazakhstan.

The guests for this podcast are:

What I’m Following

Huge International Pressure to Veto Controversial Kyrgyz Law

Kyrgyzstan’s parliament passed the controversial draft law on “foreign representatives” in its third and final reading on March 14.

The bill, which places new obligations and restrictions on non-commercial organizations that receive foreign funding such as nongovernmental organizations, now only needs the president’s signature to become law.

Since the day parliament adopted the controversial law, there has been a wave of calls from international rights organizations calling on Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov to veto the legislation.

Amnesty International issued a statement on March 14, as did Human Rights Watch on March 15, and on March 20, a group of 31 international rights organizations issued a joint letter urging President Japarov to stop the bill from going into effect. 

Fast Like Arkadag

Former Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is referred to in state media and by Turkmen government officials as “Arkadag,” the Protector.

Berdymukhammedov has been many alleged things during his 2006-2022 presidency – author of books on a variety of topics from history to medicine, a musician, athlete, commando, and more.

Now, Turkmen authorities are telling state workers they should follow the example of Arkadag, who was never known as a religious person, in marking Ramadan.  

Fact of the Week

As of mid-2023, Russia’s Migration Service reported there were 1.28 million Tajik citizens registered as working in Russia. 

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.

Until next time,

P.S. – If you enjoyed this newsletter and don’t want to miss the next edition, subscribe here.