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Central Asia in Focus: October 11, 2022

The dying Collective Security Treaty Organization, criticism of Tajikistan’s treatment of journalists, the Russia-Central Asia Summit, and more.

A soldier each stands under the flags of Tajikistan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia (L-R)
TAJIKISTAN – OCTOBER 18, 2021: Flags of Tajikistan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia (L-R) flown during the Collective Security Treaty Organization joint military logistic support exercise Echelon 2021 held at the Harb Maidon training ground. Peter Kovalev/TASS

What’s Happening in the Region

The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Seems to Be Dying

The CSTO has been around for 30 years. It is a Russian-led security bloc comprised of former Soviet republics that are now members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

The organization is something like a CIS version of NATO. An attack on a member state is considered an attack on all the member states, which will then send forces to the besieged member country to eliminate security threats.

Members have come and gone; in Uzbekistan’s case twice when it withdrew in 1999, rejoined in 2006, the pulled out again in 2012. Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan – five of six countries that currently make up the CSTO — have been in the organization since the start and Belarus joined shortly after.

But it is beginning to look like the CSTO might not be around much longer.

With the latest phase of the CSTO’s annual “Indestructible Brotherhood” military exercises set to start on October 10, Kyrgyzstan—the host for the exercises—announced on October 9 that it was cancelling them as its dispute with neighboring Tajikistan continues.

The recent September 14-17 war between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan resulted in at least 132 being killed. Each country blames the other for starting the fighting and Kyrgyzstan says its territory was invaded by Tajik troops during the conflict.

On October 7, Kyrgyz Deputy Foreign Minister Nuran Niyazaliev called on the CSTO to initiate measures immediately to prevent further armed invasion and resolve conflicts between member states through peaceful means, but his words appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Armenia called for the CSTO’s help earlier in September when Azerbaijan, which is not a CSTO member state, launched attacks on Armenian territory.

But the CSTO did not respond, even though according to its mandate, CSTO countries are obliged to help a member facing external aggression.

Protesters in the Armenian capital Yerevan called for the country to leave the CSTO.

Why It’s Important: Armenia and Kyrgyzstan are questioning the benefits of being in the CSTO.

Kazakhstan has been lukewarm lately to its membership even though at the start of 2022 the CSTO sent some 2,500 troops to Kazakhstan to guard key facilities while Kazakh security forces dealt with violence in the streets the Kazakh government claimed was caused by foreign terrorists.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has also raised many questions about mutual defense obligations should Russia claim territories it has illegally annexed in Ukraine are threatened and calls for help from CSTO members.

The reasons for not being a CSTO member are increasing.

Some Overdue Criticism of Tajikistan’s Treatment of Journalists

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Tereza Ribeiro visited Tajikistan from October 3-7 and called out Tajik authorities for their abuse of journalists.

Ribeiro posted on Twitter that “During my ongoing visit to Tajikistan, I expressed my deep dissatisfaction that journalist Abdullo Ghurbati was sentenced to 7.5 years in a high security colony.”

On October 4, Ghurbati was sentenced at a closed trial. He was accused of failing to obey the orders from police and assaulting a police office, he was also accused of involvement with an extremist group.

All the charges are ridiculous. Ghurbati was detained on June 15 and brought to a police station for questioning. When the questioning was over, Ghurbati says he attempted to the leave the police station, but a policeman blocked the exit.

The policeman brought Ghurbati back to the interrogation room and claimed Ghurbati assaulted him.

Ghurbati was assaulted twice in May 2020, attacks many believed were made due to Ghurbati’s work as an independent journalist.

Recently, Ghurbati worked with fellow journalist Daler Imomali and together they produced reports for their YouTube channel.

The reports were often about delays in the completion of projects in the capital, Dushanbe. Some of these projects were being built by companies connected to the family of President Emomali Rahmon, though that was never mentioned in their reports.

Ribeiro said of Ghurbati’s imprisonment, “Such draconian sentences further endanger and stifle media and freedom of expression,” and she called for Ghurbati to be released.

Why It’s Important: Ghurbati is one of about a dozen journalists and bloggers who have been detained this year, all of whom had made comments or done reports critical of the government.

Rights organizations have been reporting on the recent crackdown on journalists, bloggers, activists, and others in Tajikistan, but governments have shied away from commenting.

This criticism from Ribeiro, the OSCE’s Representative for Media Freedom, is a rare comment from an official in an international organization and hopefully others will now choose to follow her lead.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

The latest Majlis podcast brought together some of the leading advocates for the rights of people with disabilities in Central Asia.

This week’s guests are:

• Seinep Dyikanbayeva, a program manager and lawyer of the GNO Parents of Children with Disabilities, or ARDI, working to implement social and legal projects for people with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan;

• Madina Karsakpaeyava, a disability inclusion specialist from Almaty, Kazakhstan currently working for the UNDP in Kazakhstan; and

• Dilmurad Yusupov, co-founder of the NGO Sharoit Plus which aims to promote a barrier-free and inclusive society for all people with disabilities in Uzbekistan and a regular columnist on rights for the those with disabilities for the Uzbek media outlet

What I’m Following

No Safe Haven in Kazakhstan for Karakalpak Activists

On October 7, an Almaty court ordered Karakalpak activist Ziuar Mirmanbetova be held in custody for 40 days.

Mirmanbetova is wanted in Uzbekistan in connection with the violence that broke out in Uzbekistan’s western Karakalpakstan region in early July.

She is the fourth Karakalpak activist currently being held in Kazakhstan as officials ponder whether to hand them over to Uzbekistan.

The Russia-Central Asia Summit

The leaders of Russia and the Central Asian countries will meet in the Kazakh capital Astana on October 14.

The Central Asian states have been watching Russia’s war in Ukraine with growing unease and I’ll be interested to hear what Russian President Vladimir Putin will say to the Central Asian presidents.

This is the first time Russia and the five Central Asian states are holding a summit, with no other world leaders in attendance.

Kazakhstan Kowtows to Beijing

I’m disappointed with the October 7 vote at the UN Human Rights Council to debate alleged abuses contained in a UNHRC report about China’s Xinjiang region. The vote failed to pass by a vote of 19-17 with Kazakhstan, as expected, voting no to the debate; 11 member countries abstained.

Fact of the Week

Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded Tajik President Emomali Rahmon the Order of Merit for the Fatherland, 3rd class on October 4.

Since late February when Russia launched its war on Ukraine, Putin has offered some award to every Central Asian president except Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov.

Thanks for Reading

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

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