Category Archives: Governance

Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding by International Organizations and the Government in Kyrgyzstan, by Arzuu Sheranova (Corvinus University of Budapest)

This article has been reprinted with permission from The Central Asia Program; it was originally included in the collection:

https://centralasiaprogram.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/The-Conflict-in-South-Kyrgyzstan-Ten-Years-on-Perspectives-Consequences-Actions.pdf

The author would like to thank Aksana Ismailbekova and Philipp Lottholz for their valuable suggestions and comments on the draft of the article. Translation from Russian to English is made by Philipp Lottholz.  

Peace-Building and International Organizations in Kyrgyzstan

Since 2010, international organizations (IOs) in Kyrgyzstan have been working together with the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic (KR) to achieve sustainable peace and development of the country. International organizations conduct parallel work at the community and national levels, where they help and advise the government in creating a roadmap for the country’s development and raise questions about necessary reforms. In turn, the Kyrgyz government is open to international recommendations and strongly supports cooperation with them. Notwithstanding the efforts of rebuilding infrastructure undertaken by the State Directorate for the Reconstruction and Development of Osh and Jalal-Abad, government measures for peacebuilding and conflict prevention were more technical and institutional in nature, as for example state institutions were organised and reorganised and new concepts were adopted since 2010.

The work directly at the community level after the events of 2010 was mainly carried out as part of projects and grants of international organizations and agencies, such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the European Union (EU), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations (UN), which can be divided into three categories. The first category includes projects to alleviate the consequences of the conflict, which worked on the restoration of houses and documents, the allocation of internal refugees, and mediation and reconciliation of the parties. The second category includes projects to reduce tensions and prevent new conflicts, for example, projects focusing on building up capacity of the national and local governments, creating local networks for conflict prevention (early warning systems), training youth groups, women and community elders (Kyrgyz: aksakaldar), and creating networks of non-governmental organizations for effective advocacy and lobbying. Finally, the third category includes projects aiming at sustainable, long-term peace and at developing the country through mini-projects and social business projects implemented by communities (so-called ‘seed grants’), and reforms in public administration, for example, reforms of the police, judiciary and in other sectors.

Despite significant efforts on the part of both IOs and the government, in practice, almost all activities in the communities were carried out in the form of cultural events. Communities have hosted many theatre performances, festivals, competitions, concerts, film screenings, orsport events that have called communities to embrace friendship, tolerance, and diversity. Notwithstanding the fact that these projects were successful in and of themselves, they were also limited, because they were short-termist and unsustainable and theslogans they propagated were quickly misplaced. Therefore, I would like to argue that such cultural events are insufficient to achieve long-term peace and prevent conflicts. The state and international donors need to work on a longer-term solution, in particular on building a “new” civic nation through constructive clarification and promotion at the community level of the collective idea of“Kyrgyz Jarany” (“Kyrgyz citizen”).[i] So far, community-level efforts to explain and promote the idea of “Kyrgyz Jarany” have remained minimal, even though it was adopted in “The Concept for Strengthening the Unity of the People and Interethnic Relations in the Kyrgyz Republic” in 2013 (hereafter referred to as the Concept).

Delegates at the discussion of “Kyrgyz Zharany” at the Government Agency for Local Self-Government and Interethnic Relations in the Kyrgyz Republic 2018, as reported by FOR.kg news.

Some steps of the government to implement this idea do not receive support from communities and local governments, and both the idea and the Concept are perceived as generally seen as top-down measures that were decided without the population participating in their development and understandingtheir values (see Sheranova 2020). The lacking understanding of the importance of the civic idea of “Kyrgyz Jarany” precludes the solution of important socio-economic and political issues by the state, such as lacking economic opportunities and accessto justice, challenges to rule of law, and insufficient minority representation. Working closely with communities to clarify and promote the idea of “Kyrgyz Jarany”, especially from the state’s side, is today’s main priority in ensuring long-term peace,as it helps to shape relationships both among representatives of different ethnic groups and between the communitiesand the government. I will substantiate this argument with the following analysis of the peacebuilding and conflict prevention efforts ofinternational organizations and the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic as well as effects thereof.

What Happened Yesterday, is Forgotten Today: Celebration and Lack of Diversity

In 2010-2011 community-level peacebuilding projects worth 10 million USD were implemented with the support of the UN Peacebuilding Fund. These projects involved young people, women’s networks, and water user associations (Jantzi et al. 2017). In 2013-2016 the UN Peacebuilding Fund allocated another 15.1 million USD to support the second phase of peacebuilding. In the second stage, the UN has already introduced longer-term priorities for peace and development, such as the rule of law, respect for human rights, minority representation in governance, capacity-building of local government to prevent and resolve conflicts and support national cohesion (ibid.).

Furthermore, from 2010 to 2015 the OSCE and the EU provided assistance to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic to improve security in 63 communities, increase public confidence in the police and prevent crime by training 2,500 police officers (OSCE 2015). The EU allocated 5 million Euros to create a mapping of local resources and community needs for the effective distribution of humanitarian assistance (REACH 2014). From 2011 to 2013, the OSCE created local networks for conflict prevention, consisting mainly of women and youth, and trained them in mediation and conflict prevention methods (Winner 2012). In parallel, the OSCE worked with territorial youth councils in the cities of Osh, Jalalabad, Batken and Tokmok to increase tolerance and trust among young people of different ethnic groups and develop their capacities (2011-2016).

USAID ran its “Kyrgyz Republic Transition Initiative” (2010-2013) that supported 450 (mostly infrastructure) projects totaling 20 million USD to mitigate and prevent conflict and facilitate political transition (USAID 2014a). In 2010-2014 USAID also organized school youth theaters to build peace through theatrical performances (USAID 2014b), supported the creation and training of local early warning networks (USAID 2014a), and increased the role of women in peacebuilding by strengthening women’s initiative groups (USAID 2015a). USAID also allocated nearly 13 million US dollarsfor a program to improve public administration in Kyrgyzstan, implemented in 2013-2016. (USAID 2015b).

The author at consultancy work in the Kyrgyz Republic  (photo credit Akmal Mamadaliev).

My personal observations while working as a consultant in international organizations in the Kyrgyz Republic suggest that most of the international projects implemented at the community level were carried out primarily in the form of cultural events, namely, in the form of theatre performances, festivals, competitions, concerts, film screenings or sport events. Cultural events have become endorsed as tools for peacebuilding and conflict prevention on the ground. They were often carried out as part of mini-projects run by participating women and youth groups, such as women’s initiative groups, territorial youth councils and others. Mini-projects were aimed at promoting friendship, diversity and tolerance among local residents. In general, they can be described as successful, because, firstly, they have a large outreach to spread messages about friendship, diversity and tolerance among the audience. Secondly,they represent a joint organizational effort of representatives of various ethnic communities and the local government, during which representatives of ethnic groups get to know each other and develop friendly and trustful relations.

Nevertheless, cultural events are more eventually limited and inefficient. First, they are short-termist and unsustainable measures to achieve sustainable peace and development because they are one-off activities and are usually carried out only within of projects. After projects are completed, they are rarely held regularly by communities, with the exception of celebrations like Nooruz. Secondly, the messages spread by cultural events are quickly forgotten. Ideas of diversity or multiculturalism, tolerance and friendship quickly fade away in everyday life once cultural events and mini-projects are completed. The messages recede into the background of community life when unresolved socio-economic and political issues keep causing social tension. The peacebuilding efforts of international organizations were also assessed as ineffective by a group of researchers led by Nick Megoran (2014). According to them, many organizations duplicated trainings and seminars on mediation and tolerance for elders, women and youth within target communities, because such activities can be easily reported to donors while the root causes of the conflict remained unresolved.

Thirdly, at the community level, ideas about diversity and multiculturalism or tolerance and friendship are perceived more as another reason to participate in projects and use the opportunity to make profit, while not everyone understands and shares the meaning of these terms. For example, the UN Peacebuilding Fund’s program in order to achieve national cohesion mainly focused on promoting ideas of tolerance and cultural diversity and supported the implementation of multi-language education introduced by the government. However, in its report, the program recognized that activities aimed at civic cohesion seemed more interesting for local communities and partners from a business point of view, while they were less aware of importance ofthe roles youth and women had played in building peace and unity in diversity (Jantzi et al. 2017: 30). They noted that the understanding of the importance of diversity and multi-language education among young people, schoolchildren and their parents was high only in multi-ethnic communities (Jantzi et al. 2017: 22). According to the researchers, government officials and UN staff understood multilingualeducation in their own respective ways. The latter understood it in terms of diversity and tolerance, the former as a mechanism of assimilation. Similarly, in another, more in-depth analysis (Sheranova 2020) I have shown how measures to strengthen diversity and tolerance are perceived differently among different actors, including ordinary residents and employees of local government and national institutions. When it comes to multi-language education at the community level, for example, ambiguous understandings and even misunderstandings over the increase of Kyrgyz language education in schools seem to prevail (Sheranova 2020). In the absence of interpretation guidelines by the government, this could have negative consequences, whether international project support is involved or not.

Fourth, cultural events have become practical in the hands of both the IOs and communities because they are easy to pilot, execute and report. For example, in the framework of mini-projects (seeds grants) implemented by communities, festivals and concerts were considered practical because they did not require large expenditures, while the budgets allocated within the framework of the projects were limited and there was no significant support from local government.In turn, IOs also piloted and experimented with innovative cultural methods like ‘forum theatres’ or ‘Drama for conflict transformation’ (IREX n.d.) and participatory video methodology (Davidi 2019), which were adapted from the experience of other countries. However, the coverage and discussion of social problems and issues of concern to the young participants of these projects usually did not lead to more decisive actions by the authorities or did not even receive public attention at all.

Overall, since 2010, international projects in communities have been largely limited to cultural events, which in no way are sustainable and long-term solutions to achieve peace and development of the country. Their messages on tolerance and friendship are only temporarily present in the public sphere and quickly evaporate due to unresolved socio-economic and political issues. For example, although the UN program stated the goal of increasing representation of minorities in government, it recognized in its report that this was a politically sensitive issue and that the program did not affect the actual representation of minorities in the country (Jantzi et al. 2017: 40).

From Celebrations and Slogans to Action: Implementing the Civic Concept “Kyrgyz Jarany”

The peacebuilding and conflict prevention efforts of the government of the Kyrgyz Republic can be generally regarded as technical and institutional (primarily, the development of new programs) and, judging by the events held, as cultural. In 2013, the Kyrgyz government, after consultation with the international community, adopted The Concept on strengthening of the national unity and inter-ethnic relations in the Kyrgyz Republic’.[ii]  The Concept identifies three main areas: (1) state and legal regulation of interethnic relations; (2) the unifying role of the state language and the development of linguistic diversity; (3) the formation of the civic identity “Kyrgyz Jarany”. According to the approved Concept Implementation Plan,[iii] under the first direction, trainings for employees of the State Agency for Local Self-Government and Interethnic Relations (Russian: GAMSUMO) were delivered, 23 public reception centres and a monitoring centre were established and local initiatives to strengthen unity were supported, with a special emphasis on the Assembly People of Kyrgyzstan (ANC). Work within the second direction aimed to facilitate the transition to multi-lingual education, which for the most part included the transformation of schools and kindergartens with instruction in the non-state languages into ones with multi-lingual instruction, that is, instruction in Kyrgyz, Uzbek or other languages. Another emphasis was also put on translating Kyrgyz literature into non-state languages. In the third direction, special events, initiatives and mini-projects aimed at civic integration were supported, alongside cultural events and competitions, as well as research and print publishing in different languages.

Building Tolerance Through Distributing Children’s Books, USAID Kyrgyz Republic

The ANC is engaged not only in issues of strengthening the unity of the people and consolidating the “Kyrgyz Jarany” identity, but also in protecting the interests of ethnic groups. However, in practice, the activities of the ANC do not significantly go beyond cultural events and celebrations, either. For example, in the ANC report for 2016-2017 (ANC 2018) the number of cultural events and celebrations prevails over other aspects. In its report for 2019, GAMSUMO also notes that it mainly held cultural events in conjunction with the ANC. In addition, the website states without further specification that Gamsumo carried out 1,011 preventive measures in 2019 and reviewed 242 reports submitted via the public reception centres or other mechanisms. [iv] An evaluation of the work of the Concept was carried out with support of the Office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities of the OSCE. While the overall assessment was positive, the High Commissioner found that the government’s work on access to justice and minority representation in the country was insufficient (OSCE 2016). Already in 2018, on the part of GAMSUMO, a draft of the new “Concept of general integration of Kyrgyz Jarany in the Kyrgyz Republic for 2019-2023” was developed and discussed, which is currently under consideration by the Office of the President.

As the above analysis of the activities of international organizations and the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic has shown, the main peacebuilding and conflict prevention activities on the community level remained in the framework of cultural events. Despite their achievements, these efforts were limited by their short-termist and unsustainable nature. Furthermore, in the course of project implementation at the community level a lack of understanding of the ideas and goals of the events themselves often became visible; the messages they put forward were often quickly forgotten. Therefore, I would argue that these cultural events are insufficient to achieve effective conflict prevention and a long-lasting peace.

In the current period,the government and international donors need to work on a more long-term solution, in particular on building a “new” civic nation (nation-building). Even though “Kyrgyz Jarany” was adopted in 2013 as part of the Concept, no work has been done in communities to explain measures to implement this civic concept. Due to the lack of public information and interpretation guidelines on the measures to implement the Concept and the idea of “Kyrgyz Jarany”, the implementation steps taken by the Kyrgyz government have not been (and still are not) met with understanding and support from the communities and even from local government. Indeed, the lack of understanding about the importance of the civil idea of “Kyrgyz Jarany” precludes the solution of important socio-economic and political issues by the state, such as the lack of economic opportunities and of access to justice, challenges to the rule of law, and insufficient representation of minorities. Thus, in order to achieve a sustainable peace, it is necessary to build a new nation through the idea of “Kyrgyz Jarany”, which the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic and international organizations need to explain and promote among the population. Unless the nation realizes that all ethnic groups living in Kyrgyzstan are part of a bigger entity and have one common future, the risk of interethnic distrust and tension will remain.

References:

Assambleia Naroda Kyrgyzstan [Assembly of the People of Kyrgyzstan] (2018) Report on the activities of the Assembly of the People of Kyrgyzstan for the period from April 30, 2016 to December 31, accessed May 25, 2020, https://assembly-kg.news/отчёт-о-деятельности-ассамблеи-народ/

Davidi, Charlotte (ed.) (2019) Participatory video in peacebuilding: lessons learnt from occupied Palestinian territories and Kyrgyzstan,accessed 25 May 2020, https://www.gppac.net/files/2019-11/Participatory%20Video%20in%20Peacebuilding-Lessons%20Learnt_0.pdf (Accessed 25 May 2020).

IREX. (no date) Drama for Conflict Transformation Toolkit. Youth Theater for Peace. IREX. accessed May 25, 2020, https://www.irex.org/sites/default/files/node/resource/drama-for-conflict-transformation-toolkit.pdf

Jantzi, Terrence, Faria, Fernande and Anara Alymkulova (2017) Evaluation of the Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) Project Portfolio In Kyrgyzstan (Evaluation Report), The Konterra Group & United Nations Peacebuilding, accessed 25 May 2020, https://www.un.org/peacebuilding/sites/www.un.org.peacebuilding/files/documents/kyrgyzstan_august_2017_-_evaluation_of_priority_plan.pdf

Megoran, Nick, Satybaldieva, Elmira, Lewis, David and John Heathershaw (2014) Evaluating peacebuilding interventions in southern Kyrgyzstan. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. accessed 25 May 2020, https://www.staff.ncl.ac.uk/nick.megoran//pdf/reconciliation%20SIPRI.pdf

OSCE (2015) OSCE concludes Community Security Initiative project in Kyrgyzstanaccessed 25 May 2020, https://www.osce.org/bishkek/209331

REACH (no date) REACH -Informing more effective humanitarian action, accessed 25 May 2020, https://reach1.cern.ch/reach/kgz/kgz_2014/home/

Sheranova, Arzuu (2020) Kyrgyzstan’s ‘uneasy’ diversity after 2010: Community analysis of post-conflict policy, The Journal on Ethnopolitcs and Minority Issues in Europe, 19(1): 58-81.

USAID. (2013) Kyrgyz Republic Transition Initiative. Case Studies, accessed 25 May 2020, https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1861/KRTI%20Case%20Studies%20-%20FINAL.pdf

USAID. (2014a) Kyrgyz Republic Transition Initiative. Final Report, USAID, accessed 15 May 2020, https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1861/KRTI_Final%20Report_2014%2004%20EXCERPTS.pdf

USAID (2014b) Youth Theater for Peace, accessed 25 May 2020, https://www.usaid.gov/kyrgyz-republic/fact-sheets/youth-theater-peace

USAID (2015a) Women’s Peace Banks, accessed 25 May 2020, https://www.usaid.gov/kyrgyz-republic/fact-sheets/womens-peace-banks

USAID (2015b)Good Governance & Public Administration Strengthening Project (GGPAS), Accessed 25 May 2020, https://www.usaid.gov/kyrgyz-republic/fact-sheets/good-governance-public-administration-strengthening-project-ggpas

Winner, Victor (2012) “Messengers of peace prevent conflicts in southern Kyrgyzstan” in The Times of Central Asia, accessed 25 May 2020, https://www.timesca.com/index.php/news/11447-messengers-of-peace-prevent-conflicts-in-southern-kyrgyzstan

Endnotes

[i] “Kyrgyz citizen”, as defined in 2013 in the Concept.

[ii] The Concept (2013), all links accessed 25 May 2020, http://www.president.kg/files/docs/kontseptsiya_ukrepleniya_edinstva_naroda_i_mejetnicheskih_otnosheniy_v_kr.pdf

[iii] Decree of the Kyrgyz Republic dated 30 October 2013 No 430-p on approving Concept Implementation Plan for 2013-2017 for realization of the Concept (2013), http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/210041?cl=ru-ru#p1

[iv] Inter-Ethnic Relations, GAMSUMO (2020), http://www.gamsumo.gov.kg/ru/interethnic

Presence is Dominance: The History of Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site and Russia’s Influence in Post-Soviet Space, by Sara O’Connor (University of California Irvine)

A Brief History of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site (SNTS)

The Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site was built by Kazakh prisoners as commissioned by Joseph Stalin from 1947 to 1949 near a town formerly known as Alash kala[i] and presently as Semey. The SNTS was a vast eighteen thousand square kilometers and was the site of 456 known nuclear weapons tests between its opening and its closure in 1991. Prior to being the home of the most active Soviet nuclear test site, Alash kala and its neighboring city of Karaganda were the home of a burgeoning literary and academic scene due to its role as a destination for Soviet exiles. Dostoevsky’s literary career  started during his time in Semipalatinsk, and its people are featured in Crime and Punishment.  The area is also well known as a native land of Abay Kunanbay uly, father of modern Kazakh poetry.

The climate has a dramatic range between -40 degrees Celsius in the winter and can reach over one-hundred degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) in the summer. In the aftermath of the nuclear tests and the closure of the site, Russian scientists declared that they did not follow protocols to bury and protect nuclear material as they could not imagine that anyone would be in the area (Harrell & Hoffman, 2013). Yet it is difficult to imagine that the placement of this project which they wanted out of sight was coincidentally neighboring the village where political dissidents had been sent, and its remoteness circumspect as it has been determined that over 1.3 million people were impacted by the nuclear tests conducted at SNTS (Harrell & Hoffman, 2013).

Photograph from the first expedition of foreign interns to visit the sites at Kurchatov and Semey (2019) with the Center for International Security and Policy.  Photo credit: Oleg Butenko.

From the execution of the first test, the destructive impact of conducting a nuclear test was apparent. The town the Soviets  created as a test site was leveled and the live animals they brought there had all died or were burned and in shock (Kassenova, 2017). Between 1949 and 1963 with the implementation of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, at least twenty-five tests were conducted on the ground and eighty-six in the air, with the last two occurring immediately prior to the treaty signing and in public recollection citizens were only evacuated for one test (Vakulchuk et al, 2014) and otherwise people were informed by radio, or in towns in which there were no radios civilians were informed by letter (Kassenova, 2017); however then like now, many could not afford to relocate or evacuate. From 1963 until the closure of the site in 1991, two hundred and one were conducted tests underground which led to the contamination of ground water and the alteration of the surface ground in the area, yielding an explosive energy release equivalent to more than four-hundred Hiroshima bombs (Vakulchuk et al, 2014)  and  the creation of a new lake known as “Atomic Lake” and to this day unknown consequences in the atmosphere (Kassenova, 2017).

The Soviet government commissioned secret reports on the health and welfare of those within the vicinity of blasts, however when the health of this population became a topic of public debate, the Soviets attributed illnesses and conditions to poor hygiene and diet. A Kazakh institute was founded to further investigate the symptoms and impacts of radiation exposure on the population, and eventually coined “Kainar Syndrome”, named for a village in Kazakhstan where the people had been exposed to radiation due to the tests conducted at SNTS and were deficient in Vitamin C (Atchabarov, 2015). The early symptoms of this syndrome are hemorrhaging of orifices and internal organs, changes in skin, mucus, hair, nails, and extreme fatigue (Vakulchuk et al, 2014). In a report commissioned published by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, authors Vakulchuk, Gjerde, Belikhina and Apsalikov categorize the symptoms into acute and early effects (one to ten years post-tests), early-long term (ten to twenty years post-tests) and late long term (twenty or more years post-tests); the early effects most prominently were infant mortality, malformations of the face and nervous system in infants and a doubled rate of leukemia. The early to long term effects include more than thrice-fold increased mortality from cancer, chromosome aberrations which debilitate the body’s ability to fight disease, early onset cardiovascular disease and thrice-fold malformations at birth. The long term effects which are in some cases experienced presently are thrice-fold rates of lung, bronchial and breast cancer and decreased life expectancy (Vakulchuk et al, 2014). This report also included a study conducted by Japanese researchers in Kazakhstan from 2002 to 2004 based on studies they conducted in communities near Hiroshima, and their report concluded that more than ninety-percent of persons within two hundred kilometers felt impacted by the tests, they were told the tests were military not nuclear, and seventy-percent recognized the impact on their community’s health (Kawano and Ohtaki 2006). These issues continuously impact the mental health of the population who while suffering from current known ailments  continue to fear for the future unknown effects.

While some of the land used for the nuclear test site may be restored, large swaths are unlikely to be revitalized and the continuous impacts of the contamination of the Shagan river are unknown (Vakulchuk et al, 2014). Numerous academic and media sources have expressed surprise at the lack of barriers to entry in these contaminated spaces which are both unsafe and have been looted for the leftover metal.

The lake created in 1963 on the Polygon as a result of an explosion that used 20 tons of conventional explosives (an imitation of a nuclear explosion) Photo Credit: Oleg Butenko, retrieved from Voices on Central Asia, “Humans of the Polygon: Travel Notes from the Land of Abai. Karaul, Znamenka (Kokentau), Sarzhal” by Togzhan Kassenova, published 10/9/2016. 

In 1989, a movement since named the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement in reference to the Nevada movement for denuclearization in the United States was launched by a Kazakh writer, Olzhas Suleimenov, in his national television announcement about leaks from the Semipalatinsk website (Cabasso, 2016). He called on Kazakhstanis to protest, and the following day it is reported that approximately one million people took to the streets in response. The Kazakhstani Soviet Socialist Republic government pled and negotiated for the closure of the site, and the USSR regime agreed to a slowing of testing limited to a few tests every few years (Vakulchuk et al, 2014). Upon the fall of the Soviet Union and Kazakhstan’s independence, the Kazakh president closed the site and cancelled the two tests planned in 1991. Since that time, Kazakhstan has led a charge for global denuclearization and has been recognized for its efforts on the global stage. However, independence and the closing of this site in no way represented an end to its destructive power and the undue influence of the Russian government in the site’s management and the nation’s governance.

The Cleanup of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site and Remediation for the Effected

The closing of the site occurred in a pivotal moment for the new nation which became a nuclear free country and established with neighboring countries a nuclear free zone in Central Asia (Harrell & Hoffman, 2013). Kazakhstan returned the nuclear weapons to Russia; however, they did not have the resources to do so immediately, and so the Russian government de facto maintained nuclear sites in Kazakhstan until the weapons were repatriated in 1995. In addition to not having the resources to return or secure remaining materials, the Kazakh government did not have resources to care for the effected citizens. They created a program with the goal of providing assistance to the estimated 1.323 million persons within the vicinity of the site assigned “radiation passports” which have allowed them to access lump sums, high salaries, salary increases for government workers, additional paid leave, extended maternity leave, and free healthcare for the children of those effected. There are established judicial proceedings for those whose compensation does not meet their needs and thus far the cases have a 79.7% rate of success. However, the Kazakh government was not able to fulfill these obligations for years after they were made, and this compensation is not available to anyone who moved to the area after 1991 for the considerable industrial development here and in neighboring towns. Further, the site was not secured, and it is known that people have walked in and out of the area.

A faded radiation warning sign near a nuclear crater. Photo Credit: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “Semipalatinsk in Pictures”, by John Mecklin 10/9/2016. Photos Copyright Magdalena Stawkowski.

The Project Managing the Atom (within Harvard University’s Belfer Center) released an extensive report on the cleanup process detailing a tri-lateral deal between the U.S., Kazakhstan and Russia (eventually and reluctantly), funded almost entirely by the United States. The Kazakhstanis conducted the fieldwork, and the Russian counterparts were needed as the experts on the facility, however refused to participate unless the Kazakhstanis agreed to not discuss the level of destruction publicly. The Russian government refused to repatriate all materials recovered and thus they were encased in cement and remain buried in Kazakhstan; the site will never be fully restored to nature and the contract to secure the area was awarded to a Russian company [ii] who is now reaping economic benefit from the continued contamination and lack of security of Kazakh land.

Continued Occupation

In The Right to Maim, social theorist Jasbir Puar describes the purposeful debilitation of bodies through injury, malnourishment, deprivation and exclusion of those deemed expendable or undesirable by the perpetrators. For example, the state’s refusal to address and remedy the water crisis in Flint, Michigan which resulted in sickness in the population is a deliberate maiming of that population. In maiming bodies, and destroying the landscapes those bodies reside in (spacioside) perpetrators avoid the rancor that comes with killing while continuously weakening and controlling a population. Puar posits the following points worth consideration in understanding the SNTS: first, environmental toxins as the result of imperialism, and second, and de facto settler colonialism as an ongoing debilitation (2017). The environmental toxins released into the society and remaining in the Kazakh land have led to the ongoing debilitation of an entire region. The effects may continue to be experienced for generations to come. Securing the remnants of the Soviet nuclear project has led to an ongoing security contract in which Kazakhstan pays a Russian security contractor to secure and surveil the only secure portion [iii]of the site essentially paying the perpetrator of this catastrophe and inviting them to surveil their former territory. The Kazakhstanis have not publicly rebuked the Russian state for the creation of the site, nor in public record asked for financial assistance in handling the consequences of the nuclear tests.

Further, in the creation of the nuclear site and the use of prisoners as laborers, we see a revival of the activity that Marx ascribed to the early days of capitalism being implemented in the state conceived theoretically by Marx’s design. In Capital, Marx describes the criminalization of poverty as a mechanism to create a prisoner class available for labor in the post-Feudal era, the poverty which resulted from the shift from a Feudal economy to an industrial capitalist economy. In the case of the former USSR, under land collectivization plans the implementation of an authoritarian regime Kazakhs whom had previously owned land and subsisted through agriculture were stripped of their land and in their critique of this system became criminals ripe for exploitation. These prisoners constituted the labor that built the nuclear site many of whom died in the process (Kassenova, 2017). This exploitation continued as the laborers who remained, and those occupied the area as merchants and service providers of the scientists the USSR moved to the area were subjected to the effects of the nuclear blasts, and in the case of the one evacuation, were asked to stay behind (Kassenova, 2017). Semipalatinsk and the surrounding region were similarly turned into a laboratory as to those who maintained control, it also appeared remote and the outcomes of the test subject were not only of no import, but on occasion embodied a perceived enemy.

Heating Plant, Kurchatov, Kazakhstan Nadav Kander/Courtesy of Flowers Gallery.  Photo Credit: Business Insider, “These Are The Secret Sites Where The Soviet Union Exploded Atomic Bombs And Tested Radiation On Unsuspecting Russians” by Harrison Jacobs, 9/19/2014

Conclusion: Future

Kazakhstan finds itself at another pivotal moment. Their second president since  independence was appointed then elected and the legitimacy of the results are questioned. The first election and all of those thereafter in which Nazarbayev was on the ballot were not considered free or fair by the international community, but in those first moments he responded to the desires of protestors and of a movement. Nazarbayev closed the Semipalatinsk nuclear site, cancelled the two remaining tests, and positioned Kazakhstan as a force in geopolitics through leadership in denuclearization. It is one of the only known instances of public Kazakh rebuke of Russia since independence in no doubt enabled by the auspices of the revolutionary moment. Yet as Kazakhstan is on the precipice of another new era, the opportunity of the occasion is in danger of passing. Tokayev has come to power, a savvy politician who as interim president chose Russia as the destination of his first official visit. Now that his presidency is official, Tokayev has an opportunity to strengthen alliances with other partners, and open up opportunities for the future of the Kazakh people. Through elevating new equitable relationships he can project strength and a commitment to future prosperity.

Acknowledgements:

Dr. Meruert Makhmutova, Director of the Public Policy Research in Almaty and Jenna Sweeney Jones provided crucial revisions to this piece.

This work would not have been possible without the crucial feedback and support provided by Dr. Meruert Makhmutova, Director of the Public Policy Research in Almaty and Jenna Sweeney Jones. The author also wishes to express her gratitude for the photos kindly provided by Oleg Butenko.

References

  1. Atchabarov A. (2015) “Kainar Syndrome: History of the First Epidemiological Case-control Study of the Effect of Radiation and Malnutrition.” Central Asian journal of global health, 4(1), 221. doi:10.5195/cajgh.2015.221
  2. Bahng, A. (2017) Migrant Futures: Decolonizing Speculation in Financial Times. Durham, North Carolina:  Duke University Press. Chapter: Salt Fish Futures: The Irradiated Transpacific and the Financialization of the Human Genome Project
  3. Cabasso, J. (August, 2016). The Enduring Legacy of the Nevada-Semipalatinsk Movement. Western States Legal Foundation. International Conference: Building a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World: Astana, Kazakhstan.
  4. Guillory, S. (Host) (2019, October 27) The Radioactive Mutants of Semipalatinsk. [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from: https://srbpodcast.org/2019/10/27/the-radioactive-mutants-of-semipalatinsk/
  5. Harrell, E. & Hoffman, D.E. (2013) Plutonium Mountain: Inside the 17-year mission to secure a dangerous legacy of Soviet nuclear testing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Kennedy School, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
  6. Kassenova, T. (2017) “Banning nuclear testing: lessons from the Semipalatinsk nuclear testing site.” The Nonproliferation Review, 23:3-4, 329-344.
  7. Marx, K. (1887) Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I, Book One: The Process of Production of Capital. Progress Publishers, Moscow, USSR.
  8. Olcott, M. B. (2011) “Kazakhstan’s Soviet Legacy.” Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International peace.
  9. Puar, J. (2017) The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability. Durham: Duke University Press.
  10. Sisavath, D. (October, 2018) Global Costs of War: Military Waste Material in Post- Conflict Spaces. Presentation at the University of California, Irvine by invitation of the Global Studies Department.
  11. Vakulchuk, R., Gjerde, K., Belikhina, T., and Apsalikov, K. (2014) Semipalatinsk nuclear testing: the humanitarian consequences. (Report No. 1). Oslo, Norway. Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.
  12. Scott, J.C. (1999) Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Endnotes

[i] Alash kala was the capital of the autonomous state Alash autonomy, governed by Alash Orda who allied themselves with the Bolsheviks. The unrecognized existed from 1917 to 1918 in Karaganda and Semey on the territory of the current Republic of Kazakhstan.

[ii] Eben Harrell and David E. Hoffman, “Plutonium mountain: Inside the 17-year mission to secure a dangerous legacy of Soviet nuclear testing,” (Cambridge, Mass.: The Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University, August 2013).

[iii] Only one-fifth of the site is secured, the rest is open and accessible by the public. (SRB interview with Magdalena Stawkowski https://soundcloud.com/srbpodcast/nf02)

 

More of The Same: Kazakhstan’s leadership change between ageing leadership and popular discontent, by Luca Anceschi (University of Glasgow)

If there is only one lesson to be learned from Kyrgyzstan’s recent presidential dispute—a chain of tumultuous events that led to the arrest and detention of erstwhile leader A.S. Atambayev[1]—is that post-transition relationships between Central Asia’s incumbents and its former presidents continue to represent one the most intriguing political mechanisms at play in the region. These relationships, it ought to be noted, seem to occur at very rare junctures: Central Asia’s leaders tend to remain in power for decades, reducing the transfer of power to élite-driven mechanisms that do normally set in motion only in the aftermath of a presidential death. The playbook for post-mortem tranzit vlasti was perfected through successfully orchestrated presidential successions in Turkmenistan (2006-2007) and Uzbekistan (2016); at the time of writing, there is no conclusive evidence to maintain that post-Rahmon Tajikistan will deviate significantly from this norm.

The option to observe newly elected (or appointed) leaders interacting with their predecessors is therefore only available in the Kyrgyz context, which continues to hold regular elections despite its continuously sliding democratic record and, since 19 March 2019, in Kazakhstan, where long-term leader N.A. Nazarbaev relinquished the presidency to facilitate the accession to power of K.K. Tokayev, an established regime insider, former foreign minister and, since 2011, the chairman of the Kazakhstani Senate.

Relatively free and fair elections do generally legitimise Kyrgyzstan’s elected presidents, who enjoy as a consequence a modicum of popular support throughout the single mandate allowed by the Kyrgyz Constitution.[2] A set of different dynamics came to the fore in post-Nazarbaev Kazakhstan, where presidential succession was sealed through an élite-dominated process that sought its popular legitimation via a regime-controlled election. Here, the Kazakhstani population attempted to throw a spanner in the works of such a carefully orchestrated tranzit vlasti mechanism: both prior and after the vote that formalised Tokayev’s accession to the presidency, protests and demonstrations erupted in the country’s principal urban centres, as anti-regime sentiments came to the define the local political debates in the spring of 2019. It is precisely to the contribution played by Kazakhstan’s politically active population to the establishment of a working incumbent/predecessor relationship in post-Nazarbaev Kazakhstan that this blog entry devotes its ultimate attention.

Kazakhstan’s much anticipated transition

A look at the overarching strategy put into place by the Kazakhstani regime between 2014 and 2019, but most emphatically in the period that followed the death of Islam Karimov (August 2016), indicates that Nazarbaev’s resignation did not represent an impromptu decision. There is sufficient evidence to maintain that, in the timeframe in question, the Kazakhstani regime had designed and implemented a comprehensive process to orchestrate a transition out of the Nazarbaev presidency. A series of government reshuffles and the frequent introduction of legislative adjustments represented the two key drivers sustaining Nazarbaev’s attempt to instigate a thorough mechanism of leadership rejuvenation without incurring in the risks inevitably associated with regime change dynamics.

Placing the spotlight on the recent career trajectory of K.Q. Massimov—the second most powerful regime member of the late Nazarbaev era—identifies with some precision the élite component of Kazakhstan’s leadership change mechanism. Appointed to the country’s prime ministership in the spring of 2014, Massimov was eventually moved to the chairmanship of the Kazakhstani KNB (September 2016). Rather than an apparent demotion, this move came to embody politically the gap existing between the inner location of Kazakhstan’s authoritarian power and its institutional representation. Massimov’s appointment shifted an unviable candidate for succession—his ethnic profile is regarded as generally incongruous with the wider process of Kazakh-ification of Kazakhstan’s political life that has been undergoing in the post-Soviet years—to a position of not visible, yet certainly not marginal, influence. Massimov emerged as one of the king-makers in the identification of a suitable post-Nazarbaev leadership, while his appointment at the helm of the KNB replicated the structural organisation of pre-transitional Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, where indisputably central roles in leadership selection were assigned to prominent representatives of the power ministries, namely A.K. Rezhepov in Turkmenistan and R.R. Inoyatov in Uzbekistan.

At the time of his accession to the prime ministership, B.A. Sagintaev, who replaced Massimov as Kazakhstan’s PM, had apparently been groomed for a top political appointment for at least five years. The 2016 reshuffle seemed to have in this established a solid transitional diarchy to regulate an eventual presidential transition, while the elevation of Darigha Nazarbaeva to a Senate seat guaranteed Kazakhstan’s first family a further stronghold in the institutional configuration of the late Nazarbaev era.

The second constituent element of the authoritarian environment wherein to launch a presidential transition was represented by the establishment of an adequate legislative framework to safeguard, in case of a voluntary resignation from the presidency, the power position of Nazarbaev and of his immediate family, guaranteeing at the same time their business interests and immunity from crimes committed while in office. Carefully crafted and continuously amended between 2000 and 2010, the Law ‘On the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan—the Leader of the Nation’ was basically meant to avoid the repetition, in post-Nazarbaev Kazakhstan, of the dynamics that led to the political marginalisation and expropriation of the wealth held by Uzbekistan’s first family, with particular reference to the arrest and protracted detention of Gulnara Karimova, the elder daughter of the late I.A. Karimov.

The premeditated nature of Nazarbaev’s resignation became evident in early 2019. On 4 February, the president himself addressed the Constitutional Council requesting detailed information about the powers he would retain in case of voluntary resignation. Nazarbaev’s eventual backpedalling did not silence those observers who regarded a change of guard in Ak Orda as an option not to be discarded a priori. A few weeks later (21 February), Nazarbaev demanded the resignation of the entire Kazakhstani government, appointing A.U. Mamin as the country’s interim prime minister. The exceptionality of this latter development did not reside in Nazarbaev’s very public reprimands of the government’s agenda—a common trait in Central Asian authoritarianism—nor did it relate to the president’s attempts to scapegoat Sagintaev for Kazakhstan’s poor economic performance. Indeed, Kazakhstan’s authoritarian practice has regularly presented the president’s direct intervention as a panacea for even the most severe economic crisis. Rather, the governmental reshuffle of late February 2019 is significant insofar as it realigned Kazakhstan’s transitional team to the patronage network of its principal king-maker. As a long-term associate of K.Q. Massimov, Askar Mamin was expected to rule in unison with the KNB chairman, completing a triumvirate of which the Nazarbaev family has to be seen as the third vertex.

The authoritarian milieu described above was undoubtedly established with a view to facilitate an intra-regime mechanism of presidential succession, that is excluding political outsiders or regime dissenters from the highest institution in the Republic of Kazakhstan. It is nevertheless difficult to identify the single factor that accelerated Nazarbaev’s decision to resign from the presidency. Nazarbaev’s self-perception of his age, his preoccupation with a rapidly eroding legacy, or even the ultimate retribution of previously sealed élite pacts may be some of the key factors behind the decision announced publicly on 19 March 2019. Speculations aside, the president’s announcement clearly noted that the succession process initiated by his resignation ought to follow the constitutional dictates, which stipulate the assignment to the interim presidency to the Chairman of the Senate, a post occupied at the time by K.K. Tokayev. The latter’s selection, yet again, did not represent an accidental development: on the one hand, Tokayev’s loyalty to the regime preservation agenda was (and continues to be) unquestionable; on the other, executing a presidential transition following the constitutional dictates set Kazakhstan aside from the regional praxis, where power transfers had hitherto led to the arrest (Turkmenistan) or voluntary resignation (Uzbekistan) of the legitimate presidential successors. For a regime that has traditionally put a premium of differentiating between the governance practices of post-Soviet Kazakhstan and those followed by its immediate neighbours, the execution of a constitutionally impeccable transition at the end of a long, and ultimately post-colonial, presidency did indeed constitute a significant achievement.

The final adjustment to Kazakhstan’s post-Nazarbaev institutional settings was represented by the selection of Darigha Nazarbaeva as Tokayev’s replacement on the Senate Chair. While this author has always approached with vocal scepticism any discussion on the prospects for dynastic succession in Central Asia, it is nevertheless true that this appointment places Nazarbaev’s daughter into the top succession position should Tokayev die or become incapacitated while in office. To my mind, Nazarbaeva’s rise to a top institutional post is the institutional facet of the legislative guarantees enshrined in the First President law, inasmuch as it protects the mid-term power position of the first family, while ensuring that, at least until Kazakhstan’s first president remains alive, the dynamics we saw at play in post-Karimov Uzbekistan are not to be replicated in Kazakhstan.

This orchestrated process was meant to be concluded smoothly, as the regime expected a rapid electoral validation through a tightly controlled vote scheduled for 9 June. Beyond the immediate shock for the departure of a long-serving, and generally respected, leader, some segments of the wider Kazakhstani population reacted with visible dissatisfaction to the post-Nazarbaev transition. As a consequence, Kazakhstani-watchers spent the early Tokayev era by looking at changing patterns of regime-population relations, rather than speculating on the development of a working collaboration between Nazarbaev and his hand-picked successor.

Mis-managed expectations: The population’s reaction to Kazakhstan’s transition

The Nazarbaev regime was not the only actor to anticipate Kazakhstan’s inevitable presidential succession. The people, or at least some segments of the Kazakhstani population, have been preparing for years to, or at least discussing the context leading to, leadership turnover in Ak Orda. For much of the 2010s, Kazakhstan lived through a Twilight Zone,[3] wherein flawed assessments of the country’s authoritarian stability and of the population’s political behaviour created an unstable political environment predicated upon Nazarbaev’s ageing leadership. The ambition to have an elected second president, rather than a merely appointed one, seemed to have been shared by a significant number of ordinary Kazakhs, and it underpinned the popular reaction to the orchestrated transition completed between March and June 2019.

The post-Nazarbaev era began with the brutal repression of popular demonstrations held across Kazakhstan to protests the perceived democratic deficit of the popular vote that sanctioned Tokayev’s election. The optics of video reports originating from Kazakhstan across June 2019 were quite dispiriting, establishing a direct parallel with the Zhanaozen events of 2011, in the sense that, yet again, we witnessed the public suppression of ordinary citizens manifesting their views while the country was meant to celebrate collectively an important landmark of its independent life.[4]

Images here from the Oyan, KZ facebook page, and of the reporting on the ‘You can’t run from the truth’ action in Vlast.kz 22 April 2019.

The establishment of dissenting movements including Oyan, Qazaqstan [Wake up, Kazakhstan] and the popularisation of slogans challenging the nature of the presidential transition itself—Ot pravdy ne ubezhish’ [You can’t run from the truth]; U menya est’ vybor [I have a choice]—confirmed the views expressed by Dossym Satpayev[5] so far as the leadership’s misperception of the population’s passivity as an indicator of its fundamental loyalty to rules and norms imposed by the regime. It is not clear whether the public moment that pro-democracy activists have come to experience in 2019 can evolve into the institutionalisation of established opposition forces. However, the diffusion of anti-regime sentiments as the first president leaves Kazakhstan’s political limelight reveals a disconnect between ordinary Kazakhs and the post-Nazarbaev élites, a disconnect that, incidentally, has not emerged as visibly in the Uzbek context, where the population seems to be largely onboard with the political agenda introduced by Sh.M. Mirziyoyev.

Tokayev choose to relate to policies and practices established by his predecessor through a posture of unwavering continuity, misinterpreting the significant demands for change that the wider populations expressed more or less openly throughout the 2010s. Much of the regime’s future stability may be therefore predicated upon its willingness and ability to address this fundamental governance problem.

Notes

[1] Global coverage of these events includes: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/07/world/asia/former-president-kyrgyzstan-arrest.html; https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-49273236; https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kyrgyzstan-atambayev/kyrgyz-ex-president-arrested-accused-of-coup-plan-state-media-idUSKCN1V30EJ ; https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/kyrgyz-officer-killed-president-atambayev-evades-arrest-190808043214601.html

[2] For an overview of contemporary politics and society in Kyrgyzstan, see for example Kyrgyzstan: Beyond ‘Democracy Island’ and ‘Failing State’: Social and Political Changes in a Post Soviet Society, edited by Marlene Laruelle and Johan Engvall (2015).

[3] D. Satpayev (ed.), Sumerechnaya Zona ili lovuuski perekhodnogo perioda (Almaty: Alyans Analiticheskikh Organizatsii, 2013).

[4] Protests and arrests were highlighted in international media coverage of the election, for example https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-48574540; https://thediplomat.com/2019/06/kazakhstans-presidential-election-protests-arrests-and-a-presidency-for-tokayev/; https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/06/hundreds-arrested-kazakhstan-election-protests-190613201849137.html ; https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/09/world/asia/kazakhstan-election-president.html

[5] ‘Are Risks Increasing for Kazakhstan? An interview with Dossym Satpayev’, Voices of Central Asia, 18 April 2019. See also his recent commentary on these topics here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keaom9QJUp8&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR12Z_6WFp-TyfeUr0Ul0vg44CV24XjM1cw1HLTQqdaMwEmrAVPCfOCR_dc

Securitisation and Mass Detentions in Xinjiang by Rachel Harris, SOAS University of London

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China is home to some 12 million indigenous Turkic speaking Muslims, primarily Uyghurs but also smaller numbers of Kazakhs and others. It is now one of the most heavily policed areas in the world. Inhabitants are controlled and monitored to an extraordinary degree and detained in extraordinary numbers. These extreme policies are justified by the claim that China is fighting Islamic radicalisation and extremism.

Continue reading Securitisation and Mass Detentions in Xinjiang by Rachel Harris, SOAS University of London

Last Lament of a Fallen Dynasty: Bukhara, Shahrisabz, and a Curious Nineteenth-Century Persian Document by James Pickett, University of Pittsburgh

Here’s a puzzle:

In Kunduz (now northern Afghanistan) the Friday sermon was read in the name of the ruling dynasty of Bukhara rather than the local Qataghan dynasts, at least during the 1850s. The Friday sermon (khuṭba) has been an Islamic symbol of sovereignty for over a thousand years. However, Bukharan troops had never set foot in Kunduz, nor had they extracted resources from that territory (at least during the reign of the Manghits, 1747-1920).

Continue reading Last Lament of a Fallen Dynasty: Bukhara, Shahrisabz, and a Curious Nineteenth-Century Persian Document by James Pickett, University of Pittsburgh