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Central Asia in Focus: November 15, 2022

Organization of Turkic States summit, money from Russia to Uzbekistan, Emomali Rahmon anniversary, upcoming Kazakh election, and more.

What’s Happening in the Region

Organization of Turkic States Carving out a Place in Central Asia

The Organization of Turkic States (OTS) had its summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on November 11.

The gathering of leaders from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan showed the OTS is changing its focus.

Leaders of Turkic-speaking countries have been meeting for 30 years, but previously concentrated on their shared cultural heritage as a basis for good relations.

The Samarkand summit showed the OTS aims to take that shared heritage to the next step, and make the OTS a regional economic, and potentially security bloc.

There was a lot of talk about boosting economic cooperation. The host, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev, noted in his opening remarks that trade among the OTS members represented only four percent of their overall trade.

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev and Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov both spoke about the need for improving road and rail links between OTS countries. The leaders agreed to establish an investment fund to help finance an expansion of transport routes to better connect OTS states.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev also spoke about the need for the “Turkic world” to cooperate more closely on “security, defense, and the defense industry.”

The summit showed some of the interests of individual members that could be obstacles to OTS cooperation.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for example, said the northern part of Cyprus would be given OTS observer status, but Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov said no agreement was signed at the summit.

Turkmenistan and Hungary are OTS observer countries.

Turkmenistan was scheduled to become a full OTS member in Samarkand but did not.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at the end of September that Turkmenistan would gain OTS membership at the Samarkand summit, but that did not happen and there was no explanation why.

Why It’s Important: The speeches in Samarkand show the OTS wants to be a regional trade bloc with a developed infrastructure that accommodates trade between Europe and Asia, and provides additional security and defense assurances to its members.

The timing could not be better for the Central Asian members who are looking to fill trade and security vacuums being created by a diminishing Russian presence in Central Asia.

Record Amount of Money Going from Russia to Uzbekistan

Sanctions that Western countries imposed on Russia for attacking Ukraine were predicted to cause a reduction in remittances sent from Russia to Central Asia due to reduced opportunities for employment in Russia.

But in Uzbekistan, Deputy Finance Minister Odilbek Isakov said remittances from Russia to Uzbekistan more than doubled in the first month of 2022, compared to 2021.

Isakov said $10.7 billion was sent from Russia to Uzbekistan between January and September.

The reason is the arrival of Russians in Uzbekistan. Isakov mentioned that some 20,000 Russian IT workers had relocated to Uzbekistan under an Uzbek government program.

In reports at the end of October, Mamarizo Nurmuratov, the head of Uzbekistan’s Bank, said 67,000 Russian citizens had opened bank accounts in Uzbekistan since the start of 2022.

Nurmuratov said half those people were now living or working in Uzbekistan on a permanent basis. Reports noted that under Uzbek law, a nonresident can open a bank account in the country after staying in Uzbekistan for more than 15 consecutive days.

Another report from the end of October said total money transfers to Uzbekistan in the first nine months of 2022 totaled some $12.6 billion and that in 2021 the average transfers were around $1,000, while in 2022, some 60 percent of transfers were for $10,000 or more.

Why It’s Important: For the moment it appears Uzbekistan is benefitting from the exodus of Russian citizens.

Remittance figures in the past were mainly based on money sent back by Uzbek migrant laborers, so this year’s figures involving Russians bringing their money to Uzbekistan is something new.

The loser is Russia’s image in Uzbekistan. There must be a lot of mixed emotions at watching citizens from the country that colonized Central Asia arriving to places like Uzbekistan and bringing their money with them.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at Kazakhstan’s November 20 presidential election.

Incumbent President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev’s victory is assured.

The discussion looked at the significant domestic and foreign policy problems Kazakhstan has been facing this year, and what Toqaev might be hoping to achieve by conducting a snap presidential election.

This week’s guests are Ben Godwin, the head of analysis at PRISM Political Risk Management who lived and worked in Kazakhstan for seven years and continues to track events there, and Darkhan Umirbekov, digital editor at RFE/RL’s Kazakh service in Astana.

What I’m Following

The Old Man of Tajikistan

November 19 marks the 30-year anniversary of the day Emomali Rahmon became the leader of Tajikistan.

In a secret vote in Tajikistan’s northern city of Khujand, parliament elected Rahmon, then called Rakhmonov, to be speaker of parliament, the highest post in the country at that time.

RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, known locally as Radio Ozodi, is preparing an in-depth look at the man no one in 1992 could have guessed would still be leading Tajikistan in 2022.

Will the Kazakh Elections Go Smoothly?

There were protests in Kazakhstan after Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev took office in 2019. It is a fair bet that there will be some protests on November 20 when the country has an early presidential election.

Some people in Kazakhstan opposed Toqaev becoming president when his predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbaev, essentially handed Toqaev the position in March 2019. They continue to criticize President Toqaev for retaining Nazarbaev’s politics and not implementing promised reforms.

How many people protest, or how many are detained before they have a chance to protest, should give us a good idea of what to expect from the public in the coming months as Toqaev starts his second term in office.

Fact of the Week

The first meeting of Turkic-speaking states was held in Ankara, Turkey on October 30, 1992, and attended by the leaders of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

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

Until next time,