Crossroads Asia

Tajikistan’s New Year Crackdown

Plus: Nicolas Cage’s stolen dinosaur skull, forced labor in Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz of the Pamirs; recommended reads.

Tajikistan’s New Year Crackdown
Credit: Flickr/quintanomedia

Weekend reads:

A Bit Grinchy: Tajikistan isn’t quite in the holiday spirit. As Eurasianet and RFE/RL’s Tajik service report, the country’s education minister apparently said that putting up and decorating trees for New Year by students is “strictly prohibited.” In addition, fireworks, gift-giving, and charity are also off the table. Tajikistan has only about 150,000 Christians–mostly Russian Orthodox. Beyond Christmas, western-style New Year celebrations are decidedly not traditional enough for the authorities. In 2012, a man dressed as Ded Moroz (Дед Мороз), the Russian Father Frost, was stabbed to death in Dushanbe and in 2013, the government banished Father Frost “his maiden sidekick Snegurochka (Maiden Snow), and [the] New Year’s tree” from state television.

Uzbekistan, for its part, wants everyone to spend New Years at home. Restaurants and bars in Samarkand have been ordered to close by 11 p.m.

Astana Knows What You’ve Been Posting: A piece on Reuters this week links Kazakhstan’s crackdown on freedoms of speech in recent months to its economic crisis. Several political activists have been arrested and charged with sowing “discord” because of postings on social media and one man–Yermek Taychibekov–was sentenced for four years in jail for a post that call for unification with Russia.

Forced Labor in Uzbekistan: Another good Reuters posting this week takes a deeper look at forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector and specifically its continuation even as the U.S. decided to lift Tashkent out of the bottom tier of its annual human trafficking report earlier this year. Reuters seems to have found proof of what many regional analysts already believed: that the U.S. State Department revised Uzbekistan’s rankings for political reasons. A memo, previously undisclosed, “called forced labor “endemic” during the cotton harvest,” noted that Uzbekistan had failed to make progress, and recommended keeping the country in the lowest tier of the rankings which entails the potential for economic and other sanctions. But the memo’s recommendations were rejected.

Reuters says that based on its own examination and interviews Uzbekistan, while making progress on child labor, “has intensified recruitment of adults and older teenagers using the same coercive approach.”

In 2016, Economic Pain to Continue: External shocks–from low oil and commodities prices to slowdowns in Russia and China–will continue to impact the economies of Central Asia, bne IntelliNews writes this week. Kazakhstan, with the region’s largest economy (after Russia), was the hurt most by 2015’s low oil and commodities prices and there’s little hope for significant improvement in 2016. And Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have been pulled down by their dependence on remittances. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, more isolated and less dependent on Russia, had the best year growth-wise in the region but are also more difficult to evaluate as “[o]fficial statistics are unreliable.” Another bne report from this week points to difficulties in Turkmenistan–no matter what statistics Ashgabat parrots. The country has reportedly ordered that at least 12 percent of employees’ wages should be paid in government bonds.

A Present for Mongolia: A piece of good news for Mongolia involves a movie star and a dinosaur skull. American actor Nicolas Cage purchased a Tyrannosaurus bataar skull for over $250,000 in 2007 in an auction, reportedly outbidding Leonardo DiCaprio. Tyrannosaurus bataar, also called a Tarbosaurus, lived in the area of modern-day Mongolia 70 million years ago. This week Cage agreed to return the skull to Mongolia after it was determined that it had been stolen. Mongolia outlawed the export of dinosaur bones in 1924–viewing fossils found in the Gobi desert as national treasures. The gallery from which Cage had bought the fossil had gotten it from paleontologist Eric Prokopi. Prokopi was arrested in 2012 for illegally smuggling dinosaur bones into the United States. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three months in prison in 2014; he agreed to help the authorities recover other stolen and smuggled fossils.

The Pamir Kyrgyz: The nomadic Kyrgyz of the Pamir Mountains were forcibly settled (mostly in Tajikistan) during the Soviet era but, as photographer Janyl Jusupjan shows in a wonderful photo essay for RFE/RL, in the summer many return to the mountain pastures, yurts and yak herds of the past.