Weekend Central Asia reads:
Remembering Andijan and its Boogeymen: May 13, 2016, is the 11th anniversary of the Andijan massacre. There are a number of excellent articles from years past to read regarding the events of 2005, but there’s little new to report. As Human Rights Watch noted today, campaigns to crush dissent remain a feature of political life in Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan maintains a narrative that the violence in Andijan was incited by a terrorist group called Akromiya, founded by Akram Yuldashev. Yuldashev was, at the time, in Uzbek prison after being convicted of a range of crimes relating to the 1999 Tashkent bombings. In January 2016, a month ahead of Yuldashev’s scheduled release, it was revealed that he had died in prison in 2010.
Akromiya played a central role in the Uzbek state’s narrative of what happened in Andijan, but little was known before 2005 about the supposed terrorist group and less has been said since. Sarah Kendzior, a year after the massacre, authored an extensive investigation into the group and arrived at the conclusion that Akromiya, as a terrorist organization, was essentially a myth concocted by the state and promulgated through uncritical media.
Reading Kendzior’s article now, a decade later, it’s hard not to see opportunities for the same thing to happen again. The identification of real threats is immensely complicated when the state invents or overplays the threat of boogeymen. “In Uzbekistan, however,” Kendzior wrote, “myths can be as meaningful as any reality.”
Other Uzbekistan stories: Few will be surprised that a number of Uzbeks have turned up in the Panama Papers, or that the children of Uzbek elites bought expensive homes and laundered money through Latvia. This week news broke that GM Uzbekistan is engulfed in a huge scandal, with executives accused of skimming the massive difference in prices between cars sold in Russia and those sold in Uzbekistan.
Kazakhstan and China: Astana’s swift pivot in tone regarding recent protests over now-stalled land code changes came as a surprise to many. The government has not only put the changes on hold, but set up a new government body and website to centralized information about land issues. The government even issued a rare apology. At the same time, activists say they’re still planning rallies for May 21 and it’s yet to be seen if the government’s efforts to placate the public will evolve into a more open dialogue between the state and its people.
While the public concern that Kazakh land would be purchased by Chinese in part fueled the protests, China’s economic and political importance to Kazakhstan cannot be understated. Jack Farchy, of the Financial Times, reported this week on a Kazakh language school that is shifting from teaching English to Chinese, indicative of Beijing’s growing regional role.
Other Kazakhstan stories: Why the hipsters of Almaty need to use fake names is unclear, but a psychologist sheds some light with this comment: “The first rule among [Kazak] hipsters’ is not to tell anyone you’re a hipster.” And if those hipsters need to take a deep breath, Almaty may not be the place for it. Eurasianet has a fantastic report on environmental activists in the city who are measuring pollution in the country’s largest city and former capital. The catch is that while the government is allowing them to collect data, they can’t make it public.
Game of (Kyrgyz) Thrones: Lastly, enjoy listening to this cover of the Game of Thrones theme song using traditional Kyrgyz instruments. It’s as if the song was written to be played with a kyl kyyak and a komuz.