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Month in Review: Central Asia in September 2019

September 2019 in Central Asia was remembered by the traditional foreign business trips of leaders, rallies, conflicts at the border of countries and preparations for the parliamentary elections. The analytical platform CABAR.asia provides a brief overview of the most significant events of the region for September.

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National Council of Public Trust

The National Council of Public Trust, created by President Kassym-Zhomart Tokaev after his election victory, began its work in September. Some see this as a big advantage, noting that the new head of state will regain the trust of the people. Some see this as a tricky step to bring back protesting voters from the streets and maintain his legitimacy after criticism from international observers at in the presidential election.

Photo: akorda.kz

The National Council of Public Trust under the President of Kazakhstan (hereafter NCPT) is an advisory and consultative body. Its main purpose is to provide suggestions and recommendations on important issues of national policy based on public discussions with community leaders, representatives of parties and civil society.

The role of the NCPT becomes ambiguous if we accept the fact that the political system is becoming more complex. Already instead of one center of political decisions, there are two – Akorda and the Library. Here, the second power vertical is approaching: Elbasy, at the last expanded meeting of the political council Nur Otan, ordered his close associates to restructure party work so that it turns into a leading and directing force that would oversee the actions of the executive branch.

Read CABAR.asia’s material on how can Tokaev make use of NCPT.

State of the Nation Address of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan – 2019

On September 2, 2019, the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan (RK hereafter) Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, delivered[1] his first State of the Nation Address. Undoubtedly, it aroused great interest in society, especially among academicians and the expert community.

Photo: akorda.kz

The 2019 State of the Nation Address is undoubtedly a continuation of the policy that is defined by the First President of the RK, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Thus, the continuity of the main political course is observed. However, certain differences can be traced. This year’s address was not broadcasted live, and there are some peculiarities in the structure and content.

Tokaev’s first state of the Nation Address is not aimed at epochal transformations, but is based on concrete measures with “small step” tasks.

Read the article of CABAR.asia on the State of the Nation Address of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan

Anti-Chinese rallies

On September 3, about 100 residents of the Kazakh city of Zhanaozen gathered in the central[2] square and demanded to stop the implementation of Chinese projects in Kazakhstan. On the same day in Nur-Sultan, Aktobe and Shymkent, an action entitled “We are against Chinese expansion” took place.

Protesters expressed outrage at the Kazakh-Chinese agreement on the construction of 55 enterprises in Kazakhstan in the agricultural and industrial fields.

In Zhanaozen, protesters gathered outside the city hall and demanded that Tokaev pledge to put an end to Chinese projects in Kazakhstan. Others highlighted issues such as the release of political prisoners.

The governor of the Mangistau region, Serikbai Trumov, assured the protesters that Chinese enterprises would not be built in Kazakhstan without a public hearing.

China is the fourth largest investor and the third largest credit provider in Kazakhstan.

Tokaev’s trip to China

Against the backdrop of increased anti-Chinese sentiment in the country, Kazakh President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev went on a visit to China. During his visit to China on September 11-12, Tokaev and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed issues of bilateral[3] cooperation.

Photo: akorda.kz

According to Akorda, following the results of the negotiations between Tokaev and Xi Jinping on September 11, 10 documents were signed in Beijing. This is a joint statement of the heads of state, protocols between the Ministry of Agriculture of Kazakhstan and the main customs department of China on inspection, quarantine, veterinary and sanitary requirements, as well as an intergovernmental agreement on – “cooperation on the project on provision of supercomputer to the Kazakh side by the Chinese government.”

Arrests of participants in unauthorized rallies

On September 21, 57 alleged[4] participants in “unauthorized rallies” were detained in Almaty and Nur-Sultan. Detentions also took place in Shymkent and, reportedly, in several other cities.

The “Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan” (DCK) movement, which the court in Kazakhstan called an “extremist organization,” and its leader Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former banker and critic of the Kazakh authorities who have been living in exile since 2009, called for rallies on September 21.

On September 20, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Kazakhstan warned Kazakhstanis against participating in “illegal protests.” The country’s authorities call the DCK rallies illegal, which, as a rule, end with the arrests of participants.

Tokaev took part in the session of the UN General Assembly

At the end of September, Kazakh President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev visited[5] New York (USA) to attend the 74th session of the UN General Assembly. During the visit, Tokayev met with UN Secretary General Antoniu Guterres and heads of states and governments of several countries, heads of international organizations, representatives of American business, multinational companies, political and expert circles of the United States. The visit lasted until September 25.


Conflict on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border

Mid-September was overshadowed by another conflict on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border. This time it happened in the village of Maksat, of the Leilek district. As a result, it ended in a shootout and using mortars. 13 people were wounded from the Kyrgyz side[6] and Lieutenant Colonel of the Boru Special Forces of the Border Service was killed, from the Tajik side – 3 victims and 12 wounded.

Photo: president.kg

The parties traditionally accused each other of what happened, and exchanged notes of protest happened at the level of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[7] Officially, both countries believe that the conflict began because of illegal construction on the disputed area. As a result, the prime ministers of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, who held negotiations in the Batken region, had to extinguish the confrontation. The situation was settled, but no one guarantees that the conflict will not recur in the very near future.

In July 2019, a joint meeting of the presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Sooronbay Jeenbekov and Emomali Rahmon, took place. The press services of the heads of two states excitedly talked about how fruitfully the leaders of friendly countries spoke and how important the meeting was for resolving cross-border conflicts. In less than two months, another conflict with gunfire and casualties broke out on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border.

The September conflict became 12th on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border since the beginning of this year. Read the detailed CABAR.asia material about the latest conflict.

Exchange of near-border territories

On September 10, a conflict occurred between the Uzbek border guards and local residents of Kerkidan village, which is located near a water storage basin. Residents of the Kerkidan village, which is located in Osh Oblast, were outraged by the fact that the border guards of Uzbekistan erect fences near the water storage basin.[8]

Official authorities of the Osh region confirmed the exchange of land with Uzbekistan. The territory in Aravan district was transferred to Uzbekistan (in the district of Too-Moyun) – the land near the village of Kerkidan (alongside the reservoir) was exchanged for an area near the village of Gulbaar. Border demarcation will be carried out within a week.

Photo: azattyk.org

Land near the villages of Kerkidan and Gulbaar have the same area of ​​407 hectares. According to the Osh administration, the exchange has long been initiated by Kyrgyzstan.

This exchange has long been initiated by the Kyrgyz side. During the recent negotiations, an agreement was reached on the delimitation of borders.

In 2015, residents of Kerkidan protested over reports that the land at the reservoir would be given to neighbors. They demanded that the reservoir should be given for equal use between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Jeenbekov met with Putin in Orenburg

On September 20, the president of Kyrgyzstan, Sooronbai Jeenbekov met with the Russian president Vladimir Putin as part of his  one-day working trip to the Orenburg region (Russia).[9]

 Photo: president.kg

According to the president’s press service, Jeenbekov and Putin jointly watched the progress of the Center-2019 military exercises at the Donguz training ground, and also watched an exhibition of weapons and military equipment.

In a separate meeting, the heads of the two states discussed the current situation, current issues and prospects for cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Russia.

“Eurasian Week” in Bishkek

From September 25 to 27, the international exhibition forum “Eurasian Week – 2019” was held in Bishkek. It was attended by more than two thousand people, where issues of economic integration and business cooperation were discussed.

The three-day event was opened by a plenary meeting, and afterwards themed sessions began. The Prime Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic Muhammedkaly Abylgaziyev, the Chairman of the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission Tigran Sargsyan, the Ministers of the EEC, representatives of state bodies and the business community of the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union spoke at the meeting.

The central theme of the forum in 2019 was to summarize the results of the first five years of the Eurasian Economic Union and its role in the global world community. The topics of strategic sessions were devoted to defining vectors of further development, analysis of implemented cases, developed and implemented mechanisms, and identification of integration growth points.


The second unit of the Rogun hydroelectric station was launched

On the 28th anniversary of state independence, Tajikistan launched the second[10] unit of the Rogun hydroelectric station. On September 9, President of the country Emomali Rahmon, by clicking on a symbolic button, started the operation of the second unit of the hydroelectric power station with a capacity of up to 120 MW of electricity per hour.

Photo: president.tj

The first unit of the hydroelectric power station was solemnly launched in November last year, the second, as expected, had to be commissioned in April of this year, however this did not happen due to technical reasons. Another date was announced – September 9th.

Currently, in summer time, Tajikistan supplies electricity to neighboring Uzbekistan and Afghanistan at a price of 40 dirhams (4 cents) for each kilowatt.

However, the residents of Tajikistan have their own expectations from the Rogun hydroelectric station. They hope that with the launch of the second unit, the problem with uninterrupted power supply in the country will be solved. Almost two decades, rural residents of Tajikistan, which make up 70% of the country’s population, suffer from restrictions on energy supply in winter time.

Engineers of the Rogun hydropower plant assure that from now on with the launch of the second unit, the generated electricity will be enough to ensure uninterrupted supply to the country’s inhabitants.

In total, there are six units at the Rogun HES, of which two, in accordance with the approved project, are installed temporarily and will generate electricity until 2021 and will be replaced.

Representatives of the Rogun Hydroelectric Power Station mentioned that the third hydropower unit will be installed in the next two years. All six units are expected to work until 2026.

Tajik authorities had terminated agreement with the Chinese company

The Government of Tajikistan terminated the investment agreement concluded[11] three years ago with the Chinese company Henan Zhong-Ya Holding Group on the modernization and commissioning of ammonia and urea production facilities on the basis of Azot OJSC (formerly Tajik Azot).

The only producer of mineral fertilizers in the country is located in the city of Levakand (formerly Sarband) in the Khatlon region.

The corresponding decree was adopted by the government of the republic on August 30 of this year. The document states that the agreement is terminated “in connection with the failure to fulfill obligations undertaken by Henan Zhong-Ya Holding Group, China.

The agreement between the Government of Tajikistan and the Henan Zhong-Ya Holding Group company on the modernization and commissioning of ammonia and urea production enterprises on the basis of Azot OJSC was signed on September 3, 2016.

After that, a controlling stake in Azot OJSC was transferred to a Chinese company (50% + 1 share), which was supposed to invest $ 360 million in the enterprise.

The company undertook to complete the enterprise, equip it with modern production lines and begin production at the beginning of 2018. However, production work has not begun.

Preparations for parliamentary elections has begun

On September 27, Emomali Rahmon participated[12] in a meeting of the Central Executive Committee of the People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT), and instructed to prepare well for the parliamentary elections in the country early next year.

Photo: president.tj

It is reported that the meeting covered the results of the activities of the Central Executive Committee of the PDPT, regional, city and district committees for 9 months of 2019 were summed up, as well as internal party issues were discussed, including the convention of the next party congress, and preparations for it.

As the leader of the PDPT, Emomali Rahmon, drew attention to the nomination of worthy candidates for the election campaign. He instructed to take an active part and contribute to the conduct of the elections at the proper level.

Emomali Rahmon has been the leader of the PDPT party since 1998. In the current, VII convocation of the Majlisi Oli – the parliament of Tajikistan, this party occupies 51 out of 63 seats.

The “Friendship Bridge” opened on the border of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan

On September 30, the opening ceremony of the[13] Friendship Bridge at the Ovchi-Kalyacha-Kulundu checkpoint on the Tajik-Kyrgyz border took place. The bridge was built between the Tajik Bobojongafurov district and the Kyrgyz Leilek district.

Photo: asiplus.tj

The bridge was opened by the chairman of the Sughd region Rajabboy Ahmadzoda and the governor of Batken region Akram Madumarov. The opening ceremony was also attended by border guards, law enforcement agencies, journalists and residents of the two countries. In their speeches, oblast chairpersons called on residents for good neighborliness and peaceful life.

The bridge was destroyed in October 2017 during mudflows. The new bridge, with a length of 12 meters and a width of 8 meters, was built jointly, both sides financed 50% of the costs.


Parliament of Turkmenistan may become bicameral

A constitutional commission is being created in Turkmenistan in connection with amendments and additions to the country’s constitution.

This structure will improve the activities of the representative and legislative body of state power.

It should be reminded, that the president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov took the initiative to switch to a bicameral parliamentary system. This was stated during a speech by the head of state at a meeting of the Halk Maslakhaty (People’s Council) – the highest representative body of Turkmenistan.


Political parties in Uzbekistan began collecting signatures

All registered political parties in Uzbekistan have begun collecting signatures.[14] The day before the Central Election Commission issued sheets for the collection of signatures for the party representatives.

The Election Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan determines that a political party may nominate candidates for deputies provided that it has collected at least 40,000 signatures of voters supporting their participation in the elections, as well as letterhead forms issued by the Central Election Commission after the announcement of the start of the election campaign.


The election campaign for the election of deputies to the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis started on September 20. All five parties registered in the country expressed a desire to participate in the elections. Parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan will be held on December 22.

Read material about the upcoming parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan on the CABAR.asia. website

The prison term for Gulnara Karimova is going to increase

Photo: zakon.kz

Another closed trial[15] is being prepared in Tashkent on the case of Gulnara Karimova, the eldest daughter of the late President of Uzbekistan. On September 16, a court session was held in the Yashnabad district court of the capital, at which the issue of changing her preventive measure (that is, transfer from KIN-21 to another place) was considered.

The trial, apparently, was connected with the recent initiation of several more criminal cases against Gulnara Karimova. On August 19, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Uzbekistan announced this on its website, adding that these investigations are opened due to the theft of public funds and conclusion of transactions contrary to the interests of the country, as well as the seizure by extortion of other people’s property in especially large amounts.

Prior to that, she had already two terms of 5 years of restriction of freedom each, in March of the current year the last of them was replaced by a full-fledged conclusion.

Read the CABAR.asia material on how should the return to Uzbekistan of Gulnara Karimova’s ill-gotten assets be carried out

Uzbekistan joins Turkic Council

Uzbekistan made a decision on membership in the Turkic Council and became its full member country.[16] Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed the Law “On ratification by the Republic of Uzbekistan of the Nakhichevan agreement on the establishment of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-speaking states”.

Photo: president.kg

It is noted that on October 15 in Baku at the seventh summit of the Turkic Council, Uzbekistan will participate for the first time as a full member of the Turkic Council, represented by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

The Turkic Council, which was established on October 3, 2009 in Nakhichevan, is an international intergovernmental organization whose main activity is to strengthen friendship and good neighborliness between Turkic-speaking countries, preserving peace, security and mutual trust in the region and the world.

Currently, the Council includes Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey.

Uzbekistan introduces visa-free regime for citizens of China

Uzbekistan introduces a visa-free regime for Chinese citizens[17] for up to seven days.

The introduction of a visa-free regime for Chinese citizens, including Hong Kong, is provided for by the decree of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev from September 12.

Chinese citizens will be able to enter Uzbekistan for up to seven days without visas as of January 1, 2020. However, they can enter by visa-free travel exclusively through the international airports of Uzbekistan.

For reference, now citizens of 65 countries can enter Uzbekistan without visas. This is the second indicator in the level of liberalization to the visa regime in the world after Georgia. In addition, citizens of 77 countries have the opportunity to enter Uzbekistan by electronic visa.

Forced cotton picking continues

In some regions of Uzbekistan, cotton picking started on September 14. Despite the promises of Uzbek officials that this year they will not be force people to pick up crops, employees of some budgetary organizations were ordered to go for cotton picking.[18]

Despite the fact that Uzbekistan has adopted a number of laws aimed at eradicating forced labor, citizens continue to be forcibly involved in the harvest of cotton.

It should be reminded that at a video conference on August 12, President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev officially banned sending school students, university students and employees of budgetary organizations to pick cotton. This happened after the US Department of Labor excluded Uzbekistan from the list of countries where child or forced labor is used in the production of goods.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.

[1] Head of State Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev delivered a Message to the people of Kazakhstan. Akorda.kz. http://www.akorda.kz/ru/events/astana_kazakhstan/astana_other_events/glava-gosudarstva-kasym-zhomart-tokaev-vystupil-s-poslaniem-narodu-kazahstana

[2] More than 100 people rallied in Zhanaozen. Lada.kz. https://www.lada.kz/aktau_news/society/73145-bolee-100-chelovek-vyshli-na-akciyu-protesta-v-zhanaozene.html

[3] President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev held talks with President of China Xi Jinping. Akorda.kz http://www.akorda.kz/en/events/international_community/foreign_visits/prezident-kazahstana-kasym-zhomart-tokaev-provel-peregovory-s-predsedatelem-knr-si-czinpinom

[4] Police of Nur-Sultan: on September 21, fifty people were detained in the capital. Azattyq.org. https://rus.azattyq.org/a/30178891.html

[5] Tokaev went to New York to attend the UN General Assembly. Azattyq.org. https://rus.azattyq.org/a/30178741.html

[6] 13 people were injured. 24.kg. https://24.kg/proisshestvija/129536_konflikt_nagranitse_postradali_13kyirgyizstantsev/

[7] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan presented a note of protest after Tajikistan. 24.kg. https://24.kg/obschestvo/129595_konflikt_nagranitse_mid_kyirgyizizstan_vruchil_poslu_tadjikistana_notu_protesta/

[8] Land exchange between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Kloop.kg. https://kloop.kg/blog/2019/09/12/obmen-zemli-mezhdu-kyrgyzstanom-i-uzbekistanom-teper-vodohranilishhe-kerkidan-polnostyu-nahoditsya-na-uzbekskoj-territorii/  

[9] President Sooronbai Jeenbekov and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed pressing issues of bilateral cooperation. President.kg. http://www.president.kg/en/sobytiya/15044_prezident_sooronbay_gheenbekov_i_prezident_rossii_vladimir_putin_obsudili_aktualnie_voprosi_dvustoronnego_sotrudnichestva

[10] The second unit of the Rogun hydroelectric station was launched. Energolit will sink into oblivion? Ozodi.org https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30156078.html

[11] The Tajik Azot restoration agreement with the Chinese is terminated. They did not fulfill the obligation. Asiaplus.tj. https://asiaplustj.info/ru/news/tajikistan/economic/20190911/soglashenie-o-vosstanovlenii-tadzhik-azota-s-kitaitsami-rastorgnuto-oni-ne-vipolnili-obyazatelstva

[12] Emomali Rahmon called on party members to nominate worthy candidates for parliamentary elections. Asiaplus.tj. https://asiaplustj.info/ru/news/tajikistan/power/20190927/emomali-rahmon-prizval-odnopartiitsev-vidvinut-dostoinih-kandidatov-k-parlamentskim-viboram

[13] On the border of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan opened the “Friendship Bridge. Asiaplus.tj. https://asiaplustj.info/ru/news/tajikistan/politics/20190930/na-granitse-tadzhikistana-i-kirgizstana-otkrili-most-druzhbi

[14] The parties of Uzbekistan began collecting signatures. Five political forces will take part in the parliamentary elections. Podrobno.uz. https://podrobno.uz/cat/obchestvo/partii-uzbekistana-nachali-sbor-podpisey-/

[15]New criminal cases have been launched against Gulnara Karimova. Asiaterra.info. http://www.asiaterra.info/news/protiv-gulnary-karimovoj-vozbuzhdeny-novye-ugolovnye-dela  

[16] Uzbekistan joined the Turkic Council. Uznews.uz https://www.uznews.uz/ru/article/16876

[17] Uzbekistan introduces a visa-free regime for citizens of China. Podrobno.uz. https://podrobno.uz/cat/uzbekistan-i-kitay-klyuchi-ot-budushchego/uzbekistan-vvodit-bezvizovyy-rezhim-dlya-grazhdan-kitaya/

[18] A cotton campaign was launched in Uzbekistan. State employees again drove to the fields. CA-News.org. https://ca-news.org/news:1566700?f=cp

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