Stories from Quick Reads and Central Asia & Caucasus
The growing migration crisis has recently also affected countries in southeastern Europe, with new issues arising almost daily. Reacting to the inhumane treatment of migrants who pass through Republic of Macedonia, renowned human rights activist Suad Missini started a hunger strike in front of the Parliament building in Skopje. He began the strike immediately after publishing his three demands in a Facebook post on Sunday, June 14, which garnered almost 300 likes and over 90 shares in just the first day.
I am just starting a hunger strike.
In front of the Parliament.
I demand urgently and immediately:
- Urgent adoption of the changes of the Asylum law, that would enable safe transit or temporary stay of refugees passing through the Macedonian territory, as well as free use of all publicly available means of transport.
- Concrete and publicly announced measures by the Ministry of Interior in view to safeguard the life, security and possessions of refugees passing through Macedonia.
- Immediate liberation of all refugees and migrants detained in the Gazi Baba center and its immediate closure.
The strike will not end unless these demands are fulfilled.
Thousands of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria and other war zones pass through Macedonia, traveling from Greece towards Serbia on a path to try to reach Germany or other well-off EU countries. The migrants used to follow the railway tracks on foot, suffering horrific “accidents.” Lately the migrants buy bicycles, reportedly at inflated prices, in southern Macedonian towns and cycle on the main highway. Many of them fall victim to human trafficking rings and gangs of robbers. Some of the refugees are held as “witnesses” in the Reception Center for Foreigners “Gazi Baba” in Skopje in what Macedonian Ombudsman Idzhet Memeti has called “inhuman, unhealthy, and undignified” conditions.
The government is supposed to discuss the amendments to the Asylum Law on June 16.
Read more of our special coverage: Streams of Refugees Seek Sanctuary in Europe
Three weeks to the day since Global Voices author Alexander Sodiqov was arrested in Khorog, Tajikistan, his wife, Musharraf, has seen him only once. Although it has been presumed that Alex — conducting academic research at the time of his arrest — is being tried under article 306 (treason) there has been no public statement to this effect by the Tajik authorities. Alex is an academic, not a spy.
Global Voices has been covering, where possible, the academic meetings held in support of Alex Sodiqov. They are here, here, here and here. Overall there were twelve meetings held for Alex. On June 27 there was a meeting held at the University of Toronto in Canada, where Alex is a PhD student and Teaching Assistant. At the beginning of the meeting — now in an embeddable format — Igor Shoikhedbrod, a fellow PhD student at the University of Toronto, issued a moving tribute to Alex, not just as his colleague, but as a friend of the Sodiqov family:
Alex knows so much about Tajikistan’s history its culture and its institutions. And he knows these things not as someone looking from the outside in, but as someone that has experienced those institutions, that history and that culture. Aside from being a rising star in academia Alex is first and foremost a family man. I remember one time asking him how he was on a morning when we had to hand in assignments and he said that he hadn’t slept because he had had to take his wife and his baby daughter Erica to the hospital because she was teething. Alex did not spend that much time in the department because he wanted to spend all the time available with his wife and daughter. One of the reasons Alexander was in Tajikistan [when he was arrested] aside from his scholarly interest in the region, was because like all TAs [Teaching Assistants] his contract ran out in April and he had to provide income for his family over the summer. Last time I spoke with Alex and his family he cooked me authentic Tajik plov and promised to bring me a kazan (cooking pot) as a souvenir from Tajikistan. It is my sincere hope that he can be released without delay and that he can be reunited with his family. We need more scholars on Tajikistan like Alex.
The rest of the meeting can be watched here:
Messages of support continue to pour in for Alexander Sodiqov, the Global Voices community member wrongfully detained by local authorities in Khorog, Tajikistan on June 16, while carrying out academic research. Global Voices is grateful to Dr. Marc Herzog and the Ankara Segmenler Forumu who contacted us via email today with the following message of support:
Attached are solidarity pictures for the release of Alexander Sodiqov from the Ankara Segmenler Forumu (a local neighborhood assembly in Ankara which meets every week). I talked about Alexander Sodiqov's detention and we took a group foto with ‘#FreeAlexSodiqov’ poster and I also encouraged people to sign the online petition and gave out print-offs from AI's information. I hope it helps perhaps to indicate the global nature of solidarity with Alexander's case and [pressure] for his immediate release.
Best from Ankara,
Neweurasia.net report on the upcoming release of Kyrgyzstan's first animated film, Aku, drawn by Tolgobek Koichumanov. Judging by the trailer Koichumanov's illustrations will offer the perfect introduction to Kyrgyzstan, capturing both the republic's startlingly beautiful nature as well as the less startlingly beautiful aesthetic of its capital city, Bishkek. According to neweurasia.net:
The animated film tells the story of love between two people, which passed through the barriers of distance and time. A guy named Maksat and a girl named Aku had been friends since childhood. They grew up in a quiet little village on the shore of a mountain lake. And there wasn’t a day when they were separated from each other. Aku dreamed of seeing Paris, Maksat wanted to become an artist. Then the fate played a cruel joke with the characters, but like any other blessed love stories, the story of Maksat and Aku is going to have a real happy end.
Kazakhstan's online program Блогеры (bloggers), presented by Angela Garipova does [ru] a good job of covering socially relevant themes that the country's state-directed media doesn't always get to via funky footage and the views of Kazakhstani social media users. This week the program looked at the decision of the regional government of Karaganda to rename the city's Soviet-sounding streets after Kazakh heroes, a local court fining a pensioner for living off wild garlic and onions, and (more trivially) a Colombian sheep football tournament.(N.B. That is sheep playing sport, rather than a sport played with sheep).
Angela Garipova tweets @goribaldy
The parliament of Kyrgyzstan is considering a bill that criminalizes any activity seen as promoting “a positive attitude toward non-traditional sexual relations”. Very similar to Russia's anti-gay propaganda law, the bill is expected to become law soon. Meanwhile, a Kyrgyz blogger argues [ru] that the bill which is targeting the members of the LGBT community will also impact a much broader segment of the country's population – the younger, heterosexual Kyrgyz who do not always share their parents and grandparents’ views on sexuality.
In mid-February 2014, the president of Tajikistan ordered [ru] that recruitment offices stop using “illegal practices” in drafting young men into the army. Blogger Rustam Gulov who has written much about illegal drafting techniques in Tajikistan suggests [ru] that the president's order has not really changed anything:
A lot of time has passed since the president issued the order, and we now have enough information to state confidently that army recruitment offices DO NOT GIVE A DAMN about the president and his orders… Recruitment offices have continued using [forceful drafting practices]… Moreover, violations by these offices have become more widespread.
Photo blogger Serikzhan Kovlanbaev presents [ru] a photo report from a recent exhibition of works by Saule Suleimenova, perhaps the best known contemporary artist in the country. Suleimenova has been described by another blogger as “one of Kazakhstan’s deepest, most interesting and prolific artists”.
The theme of the exhibition is Zhanaozen, an oil town in southwestern Kazakhstan where police and riot troops clashed with unarmed protesters in December 2011, killing at least 15 people and injuring nearly 100.
A group of young activists in Pavlodar, a city in northeastern Kazakhstan, have founded a movement aimed at teaching manners to drivers. The young people confront motorists who park on sidewalks or in other improper places and ask them to move the vehicles to designated parking spots. The movement coordinates its activities and recruits activists via social media.
A Kazakhstani blogger interviews [ru] the founder of the movement:
When we just began to carry out our raids, motorists often threatened us and told that we were not police, using very offensive language. This is the only problem we have encountered so far. We are seeking support from the authorities because we help them enforce the law and ensure public order…
The blog MujeresMundi is an infoactivism project run by Belgium-based Peruvian Xaviera Medina “committed to gender as a key to development”.
[…] Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that Malala is not an isolated case. Education is not an inherent right for girls in many countries, and every day, hundreds of Malalas are threatened for attending to school.
The 2014 Nobel must remind us that Malala Yousafzai is not an anecdotic case, but a everyday reality of thousands of youngster and children around the world.
There aren't many benefits to living in an energy-rich dictatorship like Turkmenistan, but free energy rationing happens to be one of them.
Yet President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, or Arkadag (The Protector), has tweaked the Turkmen social contract by ordering the abolishment of free monthly petrol handouts to private car and motorcycle owners starting July 1. The presidential decree was issued back on April 30.
Berdymuhamedov himself initially introduced the handouts – 120 litres per person per month – in 2008, but is now keen to “ensure the sustainable development of the national economy, as well as the rational use and distribution of fuels.”
Over on RFE/RL's Turkmen service, Azathabar, the decision resulted in a mixed response:
Merdan commented [tkm]:
bu adamlarda name guna name un benzini yatyrdylar (DOWLET ADAM UCHIN) diyen shygary one surya hormatly prezidentimiz diyyaler hany one suryan bolsa gorkotsinda shun etyan zatlarynyn hic birem halka peydaly dal bir giden jay salya hicisem el yeterli dal parahorlar alya dine pully para alyp bayayan adamlar alya hany adalat nirede, intak shu gunumize shukur ederis bu bashlangyjy dine ALLAN ozi gowsyny etsin, halk yatyr, ayaga galyp shu zatlara garshylyk gorkozmeli nagiledigini bildirmeli, berdimuhammedem gorer intak bu etmishlerinin netijesini.
What have people done to deserve this? The President claims (THE STATE IS THERE FOR THE PEOPLE). I don't see that the government is there for the people, in fact, officials are doing everything for themselves. Where is justice? It will get worse in the years to come, may ALLAH help us! People are sleeping, they should go and demonstrate their disappointment to Berdymuhamedov.
Kadyr coments [tkm]:
Millete hayirli bolsun.Yuwas yuwas durmusy kynlasdyryarlar.Men pikirimce adalatsyzlyk yatirildi.Sebabi mugt benzini dine masyny bara beryardiler.Yoklara adalatsyzlyk.Masynlaryn kopelmegine sebap bolyardy.Mende bar yone yoklara denlik dal.Ussesinede zaprawkalar 10 litrden ortaca 2 litr iyyarler.Sonun ucinem zaprawka ishe girjek bolsan 5-6 mun dollar sorayarlar..Gayrat etsinde sony byr duzeltsinler.
The government is always giving us a hard time, but in this issue I think that equal conditions were made for all, since the free petrol was only given to those who had cars. I myself have a car. What I am disappointed in is the fact that our petrol stations steal 2 liters from every 10 liters of petrol you put in your car. That is what we should be complaining about.
Despite Berdymuhamedov's petrol u-turn, Turkmens still consume gas, electricity and water free of charge, part of what Berdymuhamedov's erratic predecessor Sapurmurat “Turkmenbashi” Niyazov referred to as the Golden Age of Turkmenistan.
Given the country's progress towards a free media, political pluralism and adherence to human rights norms has been stunted to put it mildly, these core privileges represent an important comfort for Turkmen citizens.
In terms of gas, at least, the state can afford to continue being generous. Only Quatar has more cubic metres of natural gas per capita than Turkmenistan, rated the fourth gas-richest country in the world based on proven reserves.
But the Pamir region (known administratively as Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, or GBAO) where Alex was conducting academic research is not all politics and persecution.
The following video reportage, brought to Global Voices’ attention by its creator Miles Atkinson, is a useful insight into the natural, cultural and linguistic diversity that define GBAO. Thanks, Miles!
Kazakhstan's most mischievous satirical blog, Kazaxia, is up to its old tricks again, reporting on the saiga antelope that has potentially ruined bookmakers worldwide by predicting the winner of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with its timeless steppe wisdom. As Kazaxia writes:
A shaman contacted kazaxia about the psychic saiga – it points a horn at one of two lamb bones bearing an etching of the national flags of the competing teams to select the winner. The unnamed saiga predicts that Argentina will triumph over England in the final. Brazil and Germany will be the unlucky losing semi-finalists, with the Germans grabbing third place on penalties.
For the competition’s opening match between Brazil and Croatia the long-nosed antelope refused to select a bone, suggesting the game could be a draw. For more predictions you can follow @psychicsaiga on twitter.
Saigas, which are members of the antelope family, once roamed the Eurasian steppe from the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains and the Caucasus into Mongolia and Dzungaria. Their numbers are now critically endangered with herds restricted to areas of Kazakhstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
— pete_leonard (@pete_leonard) June 12, 2014
Security agencies in Tajikistan have detained a Facebook user on charges of “insulting” the country's president. According to a local news agency, the 30-year-old man was arrested [ru] after posting “slanderous” images and texts on the social networking website.
A group of Kazakhstani bloggers recently returned from a trip to Bektau-Ata mountain tract which has been described as “a kingdom of unearthly beauty, full of grandeur and freedom”. One of the bloggers has posted a video depicting the breathtaking scenery of Bektau-Ata:
On March 20-21, people in Tajikistan celebrate Navruz (Nowruz), an ancient festival that marks the beginning of spring and is often referred to as the “Persian New Year”.
Icekandar congratulates [ru] the readers of his blog:
Here comes Navruz, the best and most cheerful holiday! This holiday is not like other celebrations. [Navruz] means a lot to our country and our people. Navruz is like a bridge that links contemporary Tajikistan with our ancestors and their culture…
Happy Navruz to everyone!
News website ozodagon.tj presents several videos showing how the festival is celebrated in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.
A unique book has been published in Tajikistan. Loki explains [ru] how the book, Letters from Tajikistan, differs from everything else that has been produced in the country:
The book is a collection of letters written by people who either live in Tajikistan or have visited the country. The authors of these letters come from various social and professional backgrounds as well as from different generational groups. The book reproduces original letters, leaving the authors’ writing styles unchanged and unedited.
Most of the letters in the book are in Russian, but there are also letters in English and French. The letters are also posted on a Facebook page.
The book is a final stage of the project that two Tajikistani artists, Anton Rodin and Sergey Chutkov, presented at the 2013 Venice Biennale, a biannual contemporary art exhibition held in Venice, Italy. In an interview conducted during the exhibition, the artists told [ru] that their aim was to identify issues which are relevant to all people in Tajik society irrespective of their various religious, cultural, social, and ethnic backgrounds.
As Tajikistan celebrates the International Women's Day (re-branded as Mother's Day in the country in 2009), social media help amplify the rare voices that speak against the holiday. Writing on his personal website, prominent religious leader and politician Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda urges [tj] Tajiks not to celebrate on March 8:
Celebrating Mother's Day or Women's Day is inadmissible. This is not our religious or national holiday. We inherited this holiday from the Soviet period.
Similar messages have appeared on social media sites, particularly on Odnoklassniki and Facebook. For example, Said Boboev argues [tj] in TAJIKISTAN Online, a Facebook group that has over 13,000 members, that marking the Mother's Day is against the Islamic tradition.
Such claims remain unpopular in Tajikistan where 90 percent of men and 87 percent of women celebrate the holiday on March 8, according to a recent survey [ru]. Following a Soviet tradition, the country's leader has congratulated [tj] the women of Tajikistan in a televised address. Reacting to Turajonzoda's comments about the holiday, one Tajik netizen tweeted [ru]:
Празднуешь 8 марта – гори в аду! У Тураджонзоды совсем крыша просела http://t.co/YeVoFZXrXk
— Пожиратель Курутоба (@qurutob) March 7, 2014
Burn in hell if you celebrate on March 8? Turajonzoda has totally lost his mind http://t.co/YeVoFZXrXk
An expat blogger writes about how she spent winter in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.
I spent most of the coldest times huddled next to the space heater (pechka), cup of tea in hand. Some mornings everything in the kitchen froze. I once tried to pour hot water into a cold cup and it cracked in half…
On several nights the electricity went out, sometimes for hours…
The story helps understand why Dushanbe was recently ranked the worst city in Asia for expatriates to live in.