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Central Asia in Focus: July 12, 2022

Deputy of the Jogorku Kenesh Natalya Nikitenko sits at a desk.
Kyrgyzstan – Bishkek – Deputy of the Jogorku Kenesh Natalya Nikitenko November 25, 2020.

Welcome back to Central Asia in Focus, an RFE/RL newsletter that looks at the events shaping Central Asia’s future.

I’m Bruce Pannier. I’ve been studying Central Asia for more than 35 years, went to summer school at Tashkent State in 1990 when Uzbekistan was still part of the Soviet Union, and then lived in villages in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan in 1992-1993. And since 1995, I’ve been writing about the region I think of as my second homeland.

Thanks for joining us!

Please note that this week’s newsletter contains a description of sexual violence.

What’s Happening in the Region

Violence Against Women and Girls Increasing in Kyrgyzstan

At the start of July, civic activists and representatives of women’s organizations in Kyrgyzstan sent a letter to the country’s president, Sadyr Japarov, requesting an urgent meeting to discuss growing violence in the country against women and girls.

The United Nations also just released a statement calling on Kyrgyz officials to take greater measures to curb this horrible growing trend.

Adding to the outrage is the current case surrounding a 13-year-old girl in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek.

The child was apparently caught at a market in August 2021 while she was allegedly trying to steal some headphones. The owner of the shop turned her over to a security guard with a criminal history.

That was the start of a nightmarish ordeal that lasted five months.

The girl’s parents recounted her story to Radio Azattyk, RFE/RL’s service to Kyrgyzstan. She was taken by the 40-year-old security guard to a secluded place where he allegedly demanded money and threatened she could be imprisoned for 10 years for trying to steal the headphones.

The security guard called an acquaintance at the police department who arrived and they both raped the girl. They continued to threaten her, demanded her phone number, and continued to rape her. Another policeman became involved and later they passed the girl’s phone number to another man.

A total of four suspects are accused of raping the 13-year-old girl, who they threatened with sending to jail for stealing the headphones if she did not answer her phone when the suspects called. According to the girl’s father, the suspects called his daughter every day after school, took her from school, and used force to sexually assault and rape her on a repeated and regular basis at a deserted location.

The child did not tell anyone out of fear. The family discovered what was happening in February and filed a complaint with the police.

According to the girl’s father, police would not allow the parents or a psychiatrist to be present as they questioned her for two hours. Despite this mistreatment, in a community that often dismisses rape cases and minimizes violence against women and girls, the public outcry was too overwhelming for prosecutors to ignore.

On July 7, with the trial of the four men set to begin, there was a report the girl’s family had been receiving threats and was forced to move to another area.

Why It’s Important: The activists who wrote to President Japarov provided figures from 2021 that show 75 percent of rape cases, 94 percent of abduction or forced marriages, and 90 percent of domestic violence cases were dropped.

Anna Kapushenko and Savia Hasanova, journalists at Kyrgyzstan’s Kloop Media, conducted research into femicide in Kyrgyzstan that found during the COVID lockdown, domestic violence shot up by 65 percent and 95 percent of the victims were women. They noted, “Simple things such as not washing the dishes or not cooking dinner may be fatal for women in Kyrgyzstan.”

Former Kyrgyz parliamentary deputy Natalya Nikitenko expressed what others in Kyrgyzstan must be thinking when she wrote, “We’re just sinking to the bottom. People have ceased to believe in our law enforcement agencies… (and) do not trust the courts.”

Rockets from Afghanistan Land in Uzbekistan

Five rockets fired from Afghanistan toward Uzbekistan on July 5 in the latest incident that is testing the Taliban’s pledge that Afghan soil would not be used for attacks on neighboring countries.

Uzbekistan’s Foreign Ministry posted on Telegram that the rockets hit Uzbek territory but did not explode. However, in the same post the Foreign Ministry said “Minor damage was caused to four homes in [the] neighborhood of Termez.”

The identity of those who fired the rockets from inside Afghanistan is still unclear and the Taliban said they are searching for their perpetrators.

The attack was similar to a rocket attack in May on Tajikistan, and a failed attack in April when rockets fired from Afghanistan failed to hit Uzbek territory.

In both of those cases, the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISK) militant group claimed responsibility. ISK has been battling Taliban forces in the north and east of Afghanistan.

In recent weeks ISK has been disseminating propaganda threatening the Uzbek and Tajik governments.

Of all the Central Asian countries, Uzbekistan has the closest engagement with Taliban. Representatives of Uzbekistan’s Foreign Ministry had been in contact several years before the militant group reclaimed control of Afghanistan and in August 2019, a Taliban delegation visited Uzbekistan for talks.

There are economic reasons for this collaboration with the Taliban. Uzbek officials have pointed to the trade potential of being able to move goods between Central and South Asia through Afghanistan.

Trucks have brought cargo between Uzbekistan and India via Afghanistan twice in recent months. The Uzbek and Pakistani governments also have plans to build a railway through Afghanistan that would connect Uzbekistan, and more broadly Central Asia, to Pakistani ports on the Arabian Sea.

Why It’s Important: If the Taliban cannot guarantee security in Central Asia as promised, the result could mean upsetting the amiable but fragile ties that some Central Asian countries, such as Uzbekistan, have with the Taliban.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

In the most recent Majlis podcast, we discuss the socio-economic conditions in Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast and Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan Republic that led to recent violence in both regions.

This week’s guests are:

What I’m Following

A Russian Two-for-One

A Russian court ruled July 11 that Kazakh oil can continue to be loaded at the Black Sea Novorossiysk port after a separate Russian court on July 6 suspended operations of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) that carries Kazakh oil to Novorossiysk due to environmental violations.

The July 6 suspension was the third time since March that Kazakh oil exports at Novorossiysk were temporarily halted.

Kazakh-Russian relations are strained over the Kazakh government’s public comments it would not recognize the Russian-occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine.

The CPC ships approximately 80 percent of Kazakhstan’s oil exports.

Much of that Kazakh oil goes to European Union countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia for its actions in Ukraine, so the Kremlin has another reason for wanting to see the flow reduced.

Central Asia Conference at Harvard

On July 14, Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies is hosting a conference on “Iran, Turkey, and Central Asia: Shaping Regional Cooperation.”

Nargis Kassenova, Senior Fellow at the Davis Center, and I will be moderating the discussion with wonderful speakers.

You can find out more and register to attend on Zoom here.

Fact of the Week

The fact of the week is good news from Kyrgyzstan. The water level at the massive Toktogul reservoir was at 12.417 billion cubic meters as of July 7. That is more than a billion cubic meters above where it was last year at this time when drought hit Central Asia.

Thanks for Reading

Every week we like to ask our audience a question and hear your thoughts about issues we cover in the newsletter. This week: As mentioned above, Kazakh oil exports through Novorossiysk have been suspended three times this year. Given that Kazakh-Russian relations remain tense, what are the chances there will be more suspensions at the Novorossiysk port in 2022?

Last week’s question was — Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev is not going to take the blame for the fiasco in Karakalpakstan, so who will be the scapegoat?

Mirzioyev answered that when he dismissed the head of the presidential administration Zaynilobiddin Nizomiddinov, who led the drafting of proposed amendments to the constitution. Nizomiddinov was transferred to another post “due to health issues.”

Feel free to contact me on Twitter, especially if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or just want to connect with me about topics concerning Central Asia.

Please consider filling out this brief survey so that I can better understand how this newsletter can be useful for you.

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