A few Central Asia links to start the weekend:
Kazakhstan’s Press Problem: Indian Prime Minister Modi is making his way around Central Asia–heavily covered by the overactive Indian press and less so by the almost nonexistent Central Asian media. The region sits at the very bottom of press freedom rankings, and what media exists often feels the heavy hand of the state. Casey Michel, a regular contributor here, wrote in the Moscow Times this week that “media freedom in Kazakhstan is an oxymoron.”
Since the 2011 events in Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan, where authorities killed 14 protesters, “Kazakhstan’s independent media scene has shrunk from a stable, if small, coterie to one on life support. Outlet upon outlet, from newspapers to television, immediately disappeared, with authorities citing connections to foreign bogeymen.” Meanwhile, Michel notes, Kazakhstan’s PR machine has “suckered” Western policymakers, academics, and journalists of the merits of Kazakh democracy.
Joanna Lillis, for Eurasianet, wrote last week about the libel suit against Nakanune.kz that resulted last month in a judge ordering the domain name owner, Guzyal Baydalinova, to remove a post on Almaty’s shady construction industry and pay $107,000 (20 million tenge) in damages to Kazkommertsbank, which said the reporting damaged its reputation.
Incidentally, the Kazakh foreign ministry just announced the winners of its second contest for international reporting on the country. The winners, drawn from 55 entries, all penned phenomenally rosy stories about Kazakhstan.
Spillover from Afghanistan: To the south, the spillover of violence from Afghanistan into Central Asia remains a hot topic–if difficult to report definitively on. The folks at RFE/RL gathered a roundtable to sort through the present situation. Fighting this year seems to be concentrated in Afghanistan’s north but Kamal Safi, an Afghan MP, pressed the point that the war still rages on throughout Afghanistan. Amin Mudaqiq, the director of Radio Mashaal (RFE/RL’s Pashto service), commented it would be incorrect to say that fighting “has spread” to the north. Instead, he prefered to say fighting has “intensified” there. The whole conversation is worth listening to, especially pertaining to foreign fighters–the Afghans insist the spike in violence is the fault of foreign fighters.
Russia Owes Turkmenistan: Turkmenistan’s trouble these days has less to do with foreign fighters and more with Russia’s bank accounts. This week, Turkmenistan’s oil and gas ministry lashed out at Russia’s Gazprom, saying that “since the beginning of 2015, OAO Gazprom has not paid for its debts to state concern Turkmengas for the shipped volumes of Turkmen natural gas.” Turkmen gas exports to Russia have been falling over the past decade, with China quickly picking up the slack, but apparently what Russia does import it hasn’t paid for. This is the latest in a gas war of words which began last year when Russia said it would cap purchases of Turkmen gas at 4 billion cubic metres (bcm) in 2015, down from 11 bcm in 2014.
And something fun: Check out this parody rap song and video paying homage to Besh (or Beshbarmak), the national dish of Central Asia’s Turkic peoples. The video features men in suits, dancing women, a guy with a machete, fine horses, and, of course, food.