Crossroads Asia

The Uzbeks of New York

Kazakhstan’s economy and Kerry’s trip, plus more weekend reads.

The Uzbeks of New York
Credit: Flickr/quintanomedia

Central Asia links to get you through the weekend:

Kerry finished his travels around the region early in the week, so it’s been a good opportunity to look at the United States’ interests in and interactions with Central Asia. Reid Standish in Foreign Policy notes that Washington might be chasing a new dynamic in its regional relationships but a host of regional experts are skeptical. University of Glasgow’s Luca Anceschi said the U.S. lacks an updated and long term strategy, “…you can’t really consider America a real player anymore.” Nargis Kassenova, from the KIMEP University in Almaty, told FP, “The United States is still approaching the region through the lens of Afghanistan and Russia.”

Eurasianet’s Joshua Kucera noted that the few programs announced during the trip were modest. Continuing, he says “Modesty is not necessarily a bad thing. The U.S. doesn’t have obvious overarching interests in the region, and big ideas haven’t really borne fruit.”

Russia, however, does have overarching interests in the region. Paramount among them is stability. Ryskeldi Satke, in a piece for the European Council on Foreign Affairs, comments that “in light of Russia’s catastrophe in Ukraine, the Kremlin leadership wants to avoid dramatic changes in Kyrgyzstan.” Satke notes that many of the social, governance, and economic challenges that contributed to revolutions in 2005 and 2010 remain in 2015.

Kazakhstan’s president, after meeting with Kerry earlier in the week, flew to London and then Paris to meet with leaders there. Though the deals settled weren’t large or particularly consequential, Nazarbayev needed some good news. Wednesday the tenge fell to an “all-time closing low” of 284.28 per dollar only to be beaten on Friday by a new closing low: 307.53 per dollar. Earlier in the week, Kazakhstan replaced the head of its Central Bank, Kairat Kelimbetov, with Daniyar Akishev. The move was designed to restore confidence, but bne IntelliNews wrote that “observers warn the personnel change won’t solve problems in the country’s monetary policy, in particular, and the economy, in general, as these problems are ‘institutional.’”

On to the Uzbeks: Mark Jacobson has an interesting piece in New York Magazine about the Uzbek community in New York City that gets nicely into the nuances of the lives of Uzbeks in the city. Last year, two Uzbeks from New York were arrested on their way, reportedly, to join ISIS in Syria. It’s cast a pall on the small Uzbek community — which the article notes falls into three groups: Bukharan Jews “of Rego Park and Kew Gardens” who seem to be doing well; the “Old Uzbeks,” strident anti-communists Muslims who fled their home country in 1980s “have also prospered;” and then the Uzbeks of Brooklyn, “the approximately 20,000 Muslim immigrants who grew up in independent Uzbekistan and arrived in New York over the past decade.” The biggest danger of ISIS to the Brooklyn Uzbek community, one community leader said, is reputational.