A Tajik Gardener’s Blooming Botanical Garden
A view looking down on Gharm, in Tajikistan's Rasht Valley.

A Tajik Gardener’s Blooming Botanical Garden


Central Asia links:

Tale of a Tajik Orchard: Joe Schottenfeld’s story for Roads & Kingdoms about Mirzasho Akobirov, a Tajik farmer in the Rasht valley, is a moving portrait. Seldom do we get such a personal story that nonetheless provides tangible links to bigger issues: those of economies and history. Akobirov’s orchard in the Rasht valley–with 52 different types of apples, 37 varieties of pears, and 24 kinds of apricots, not to mention other fruits–has been built (and rebuilt) over the years. At 56, Akobirov has lived half his life inside the Soviet Union and half outside. He’s experienced civil war and imprisonment, life in exile, and a return to his precious orchard, to find it destroyed and divided up. Particularly interesting are his views about Tajik migrant workers–as Schottenfeld writes, “Akobirov knows the reasons people give for migrating… but it still pains him to see generation after generation of young Tajiks pulled away from their homeland.” Stories like this are important for putting a human face on not only the difficulties of life, but the everyday triumphs of effort and spirit.

Nations (No Longer) in Transit: I reported earlier this week on the launch of Freedom House’s annual Nations in Transit report. While the summary report chronicles Central Asia’s persistent presence at the bottom of regional democracy rankings, the real meat of the project is in the country reports. The authors of the individual country reports are regional experts who will be familiar to frequent readers of Crossroads Asia (or really anyone paying attention to Central Asia): Sarah Kendzior (Uzbekistan), Edward Lemon (Tajikistan), Joanna Lillis (Kazakhstan), and Erica Marat (Kyrgyzstan). The Turkmenistan report isn’t available yet.

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Owning the Spaghetti House in Kazakhstan: As more revelations about Central Asians implicated in the Panama Papers come out, another (separate) corruption scandal merits attention. The Unaoil scandal involves some big name companies and personalities involved in bribery and contract-rigging on lucrative Kazakh oil contracts: Halliburton’s subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), the Italian oil giant Eni, and Timur Kulibayev, one of the richest people in Kazakhstan and the son-in-law of Nursultan Nazarbayev. The Age has a detailed report on the Kazakh connection (and many others on the larger Unaoil scandal) with this gem at the center:

“My feeling is that a good spaghetti house is where it is at; of course a little shashlick for lunch is good to digest also,” the KBR manager wrote using code words – spaghetti for the managers of Italian company Eni, which was managing the Kashagan field alongside Kazakh officials, who were codenamed “shashlick.”

But the hobnobbing that KBR was seeking was no ordinary lobbying. Unaoil was bribing both Kazakh officials and Eni managers.

“We need to convince [KBR]… that we own the Spaghetti House & have a lease on the Shashlik takeaway,” wrote Unaoil executive, Peter Willimont, to his boss, CEO Cyrus Ahsani. “This done we can get our deal signed.”

Friend or Foreign Agent: And for the academics out there, this article on the Exeter Central Asian Studies Network will be of particular interest. Phillipp Lottholz and Joshua Meyer, both Ph.D. students and researchers, discuss the difficulties they’ve faced in conducting field research in Central Asia. “The multiple times when I was asked by taxi drivers if I was working for the FBI or CIA,” Lottholz writes, “bear testimony to this perception of foreigners as potential interferers and foreign agents.” Meyer thought his research on Kyrgyz linguistics was far from political; he simply wanted high-quality recordings of people speaking Kyrgyz with each other without interest in the topic. It was the sound of the language he was interested in. “Given this ‘apolitical’ nature of my research, I did not think I would have any problem finding participants. However, that wasn’t the case.”

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