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Central Asia in Focus: October 26, 2022

Police raid in Kyrgyzstan, Tajik Journalist recounts torture, Tajikistan-to-Turkey corridor opens, Uzbekistan’s history comes to Paris, and more.

KYRGYZSTAN – A march in support of activists in Bishkek on October 14, 2022. RFE/RL Photo.

What’s Happening in the Region

The Kyrgyz Raid

Police in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek detained at least 20 opposition politicians, rights defenders, and activists on October 23. In so doing, ratcheted up tensions that have already been building over a controversial deal to resolve the border demarcation with Uzbekistan.

The heart of the matter is the Kempirabad water reservoir. Kyrgyz officials say will be given to Uzbekistan and in return previously disputed tracts of land along the border being given to Kyrgyzstan as part of border demarcation agreements.

Many Kyrgyz residents of the area resent handing over the reservoir to Uzbekistan. An October 15 kuriltai, or gathering of people and community leaders, drew some 1,000 people in the Uzgen district of Kyrgyzstan’s southern Osh Province where the land and reservoir transfer are planned.

They voted to establish a committee to protect the Kempirabad reservoir. Committee member and former Member of Parliament Ravshan Jeyenbekov posted a list of members on October 22.

Kyrgyzstan’s Interior Ministry says it is investigating whether those detained, many of them members of the committee to protect the Kempirabad reservoir, were “planning to organize mass unrest.”

At marathon, over-night trial sessions that started on the evening of October 24 and ended in the early morning of October 25, the Pervomai court ordered 21 of the people detained to be held in custody for two months.

Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov spoke about the border agreement with Uzbekistan in an October 22 interview with the state information agency Kabar, saying control over the reservoir will be “50-50” with Uzbekistan. Japarov listed how many hectares of land will come under the control of about a dozen settlements and districts in Kyrgyzstan.

Japarov said he knew about opposition to the border deal with Uzbekistan, but he blamed “provocateurs” who were using the reservoir issue “to destabilize the situation in the country” and his government “will not allow this.”

Why It’s Important: The socio-economic situation in Kyrgyzstan is poor right now.

Disruptions to supply chains involving Russia due to Russia’s war on Ukraine have led to a 15-20 percent increase in the cost of many basic goods in Kyrgyzstan this year.

Ties between the Russian and Kyrgyz governments have been strained lately due to the perception in Kyrgyzstan that Russia is siding with Tajikistan in the border dispute between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The brief war with Tajikistan in mid-September, also over border issues, left at least 63 Kyrgyz dead and more than 200 injured.

Further political tensions are not what Kyrgyzstan, a country that has seen three revolutions since 2005, needs right now, so the evidence against the people detained needs to be very convincing or the government risks fomenting another revolution.

Tajik Journalist’s Letter Recounts the Torture That Made Him Confess

Abdusattor Pirmukhammadzoda is one of the journalists who was detained in Tajikistan in recent months.

He managed to get a handwritten letter out of his holding facility in which he claims he was tortured.

Pirmukhammadzoda, 44, was summoned for questioning on July 7 by police in the Dushanbe suburb of Vahdat. He went, was reportedly interrogated for several hours, police searched his home, and he was released after signing a paper that he would not discuss the details of the interrogation with anyone.

On the evening of July 8, Pirmukhammadzoda was summoned for questioning again. He went back and was not heard of again until July 19 when the head of the Interior Ministry’s department for battling organized crime, Shodi Hafizzoda, told a press conference Pirmuhammadzoda was being charged with publicly calling for carrying out extremist activities.

In the letter smuggled out of the detention facility, Pirmukhammadzoda wrote that from the first day in custody he was subjected to “cruel torture” that included beatings and electric shock.

Pirmukhammadzoda said he was put in solitary confinement and guards that came regularly threated and insulted him.

Pirmukhammadzoda wrote that he reached the point where “I didn’t want to live.”

He also wrote, “I want that my four children know their father was never an extremist, or a criminal, but only a naïve journalist, who dreamed his children would live freely in a democratic society.”

Why It’s Important: Pirmukhammadzoda is one of dozens of people Tajik authorities have arrested in recent months on dubious charges.

Many have already been convicted at trials held in the facilities where they were being held, behind closed doors, with details of the court proceedings being declared state secrets.

Pirmukhammadzoda’s letter describes what happened to him, but it is probably happening to many of the journalists, bloggers, activists, lawyers, and others who are currently detained or were recently imprisoned.

(Note: Pirmukhammadzoda’s letter was not published until after this week’s Majlis podcast was recorded.)

The Latest Majlis Podcast

The latest Majlis podcast looks at the Tajik government’s sweeping crackdowns of 2022, who has been detained and under what circumstances, and why this is happening now.

This week’s guests are:

What I’m Following

Tajikistan-to-Turkey Corridor Opens

RFE/RL’s Tajik service reports that the first freight train to Turkey departed Kulob, Tajikistan in mid-October.

Tajik authorities say the railway will connect to the Kulma-Khorugh road leading to China, opening a new trade route from China to Turkey through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran.

China Road and Bridge Corporation is currently performing the reconstruction work on the road leading to China, using a credit of some $203 million extended by China to Tajikistan.

Uzbekistan’s History Comes to Paris

The famous Louvre Museum has announced an upcoming exhibit of “The Splendors of Uzbekistan’s Oases” from November 23, 2022 to March 6, 2023.

Check out the webpage to see what will be on display, and while you’re doing that, I’ll be figuring out how I am getting to Paris to see the exhibition.

Fact of the Week

According to Kyrgyz media outlet, 479,096 Russian citizens arrived in Kyrgyzstan in the first nine months of 2022.

In 2021, during the same nine-month period, 251,076 Russian citizens came to Kyrgyzstan.

Russian draft-dodgers who have arrived in Kyrgyzstan since September 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the partial mobilization for military service, are being blamed by some in Kyrgyzstan’s big cities for significant increases in rents as landlords seek higher paying Russian citizens at the expense of local renters.

Thanks for Reading

A clarification to the item in last week’s newsletter “A Test for the Kazakh and Uzbek Presidents over the Fate of Karakalpaks:

Karakalpak activist Nietbay Urazbaev was summoned by Kazakh police for questioning and had to write what is called an “explanatory note.”

Urazbaev was not detained, as the other four Karakalpaks who are still citizens of Uzbekistan were, since Urazbaev is a citizen of Kazakhstan, but Uzbekistan has requested his extradition in connection with the violence in Karakalpakstan in July.

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

Until next time,