This is my little blog about Tajikistan that comes out on Saturdays. I had a three-week hiatus during the region's holidays, which I call "The Land of the Eternal Yolka," and my own holidays, which were actually a chance to get some big work projects done. If you want to read past issues, click on "Tajikistan" under the categories. If you have comments leave them here or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org where you can also get on the list to get this newsletter via email.
Here we go again with the on-again, off-again social media website closures in Tajikistan which have been going on for months and which I've reported on in all my past issues.
What is the purpose of these shenanigans? Not really to shut down the sites, which likely make money for somebody, and likely related to the president and his family somewhere. It's just to let them know that "they can if they want," and they are in charge here. Post your LolCats if you will, people, but we can pull them on you at any time, for no any reason, or no reason. (Actually, they are a lot like the TOS of most of these services in that respect, because they can ban you arbitrarily at will for any reason or no reason, too!)
The saga of these American social networks gets Western media attention, but they are used by Tajiks in small numbers *(there are 41,160 Facebook users reported by Socialbakers among the lowest in the world, but still 0.55% of the population, which is about 7.5 million. I couldn't find the Twitter usage right away, but if Twitter in Russia is .3% of iPhone users, then Tajikistan will be even smaller). BTW, this research company says that people don't use the geolocation tag much, so it's a bit worthless to speculate.
What's more important than whether or not these Western sites get blocked -- although they are still significant and an important outlet for some -- is how the internal sites like Asia Plus fare, and what the government or its proxies are doing to control the domestic media.
Despite the foreign minister's claim that he would get 80% of the population on the Internet, the government is going slow and keeping a tight rein on the web. And the Muslim authorities are also letting journalists know they are watching. The Council of Ulems, which is basically an arm of the state as Forum 18's Igor Rotar has explained, recently issued a statement saying that fatwahs were not to be recognized if issued from various unofficial groups. Well, at first that might seem like welcome news, if the official Islamic Council tells people that fatwahs are not going to be recognized. But all they mean is that they themselves get to be the only ones in the fatwah business.
The journalists' community is not sitting back on their hands when they hear this sort of thing; Nuriddin Karshibayev, head of the National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan said this was a mere "recommendation" and that in any event, a fatwah "is not a lawful demand, and looks like interference in the professional activity of a journalist , which is an act punishable under criminal law". Well, good luck with that, as a state-approved and state-controlled entity like the Council of Ulems may be viewed as making "lawful demands" by the regime when it tells TV and radio "not to corrupt youth" and so on. It's obviously a tug of war. I don't know why Karshibayev said, "If the Council of Ulems believes our journalist do not know how to write materials on religious themes, please, let us organize trainings and teach them". Good Lord, that's giving them too much, as you don't want this state religious council in the business of "training" journalists. That must be merely a rhetorial device to call them out (I hope).
Here's a good article from 2010 which explains why people even turn to Islamic authorities and want to get their fatwahs in the first place: they want some authority to deal with problems that the state can't or won't address, and they want in particular a moral leader to resolve their problems like divorce and division of property. These are people's customs and heritage and they want to turn to them as the secular Soviet and post-Soviet governments aren't helpful. The question is whether these customs, as they become more enhanced, and as the government also exploits people's need for them, become either a toehold for extremism or another conveyor belt for state control or both simultaneously. Certainly the effort to close down two stores that had build informal mosques on their premises lets us know that the state doesn't like freelancing on religion and is ready to invoke both building codes and religious law to accomplish this task.
The US military is in Tajikistan. What do they do all day, as they wait for the seams to burst on their handiwork in Afghanistan next door after 2014? Well, they are trying to make "infrastructure" in keeping with the Obama Administration's notion, developed under Hillary Clinton and likely to be continued under John Kerry, of a "New Silk Road" that will replace the ground lines of communication (G-LOC) in the Northern Distribution Network with arteries for business and trade.
To that end, the US deploys the Navy Seabees to help Tajikistan. These are the same Navy Seabees who are busy bees in neighbouring Afghanistan, building a trauma center for the region.
In Tajikistan, the Seabees are helping the Stroibat. Oh, the Stroibat! Remember them from the Soviet era? That was the division of the Soviet Red Army where a lot of hapless recruits were put to work building roads -- and still are. As I'm getting the impression from some history, it seems the tsar, then the commissars would tend to put Central Asians into the stroibat instead of combat units because they weren't sure they'd stay loyal to the cause.
Perhaps you didn't realize that Seabees despite its spelling comes from CB, which is American for "stroibat" -- Construction Battallion. As we can learn helpfully from the US ambassador in Cambodia, now that there's much social media out there:
Since World War II, the Seabees have been building roads, airstrips, and buildings in various locales all over the world, sometimes in support of a specific military objective, as during World War II, but other times to help improve the infrastructure of a developing country.
So the American stroibat, if you will, is very much central to the notion of the New Silk Road.
In Tajkistan, as you can read below, and see all the pictures, the work has involved training their "counterparts". Except, like a lot of things in this business, they aren't really counterparts. The Navy Seabees are voluntary recruits, and they come from a country where there is a rich and developed private sector in construction, and other competing branches even of civilian construction for disasters like FEMA, not to mention the Army Corps of Engineers. And even if you look at things like the Roosevelt era and the WPA and the roads and national parks construction, the American state hasn't used the metaphor of "building socialism" in the same way as the Soviet and post-Soviet states have, literally mobilizing workers forcefully into the army, or on volunteer subbotniks and such, to get large construction projects done.
On balance, it's probably a good thing that these mid-Western kids in the US Navy are teaching the Tajik Stroibat things like how to put in shims on cross-beams.
But are they displacing what in fact could be better established in the private sector or civilian sector, rather than strengthening the Soviet-style Stroibat? I wonder. To be sure, our Seabees are going to great lengths to "strengthen the local economy," as they put it, buying their construction materials in nearby markets. Those markets might depend on the good will of some state or even religious potentate in that area; there really isn't a "free market" in the American sense.
Of such mismatches of seeming counterparts, history is made. Will the New Silk Road get built with a series of these kinds of shims, stuck into whatever seeming counterpart they can find hastily before 2015? Look down at the end to see how much money we spend on Tajikistan: a pittance -- $45 million for this last year for the non-military projects. So, maybe it's a good thing that building is getting done out of the military budget?
The military gets in where private business may still fear to tread. Maplecroft cautions against investment in these corrupt and unstable countries. Okay, well I do wonder this: how is that Tajik engineer who headed up the British gold company Oxus' efforts in Uzbekistan, who got jailed when the Uzbek government seized their assets? Eventually, this company stopped complaining publicly. Maybe they made a settlement. What happened to the engineer, Said Ashurov? It seems he is still serving a 12-year sentence for "espionage" while those with foreign passports headed for the exits.
* Tajik Government Still Messing Around with Social Media Sites
* Religious Council: No Fatwahs! Or Rather, Just Our Fatwahs, Please!
* American Stroibat Helps Tajik Stroibat - and So the New Silk Road...
Tajik Facebook And RFE/RL Sites To Be Unblocked In 'Two To Three Days' (RFE/RL)
The Tajik government's Communications Service chief says the Facebook
social network and the website of RFE/RL's Tajik Service will be
accessible again in two or three days.
Beg Zuhurov told journalists on January 18 that "access to some websites was disrupted because of technical problems."
The Facebook social network and RFE/RL's website in Tajik are inaccessible in Tajikistan again.
Asomuddin Atoev, the chairman of Tajikistan's Association of Internet
Service Providers, told RFE/RL that Tajikistan's leading Internet
service providers received SMS instructions from the government's
Communications Service requesting the sites be blocked.
However, the service's chief, Beg Zuhurov, told RFE/RL that his service had not given any instructions to block the sites.
Something strange happened in Tajikistan over a late December weekend. On a Friday evening, the government’s communications agency ordered Internet service providers (ISPs) to block 131 websites for “technical” reasons. Then suddenly, a few days later, the ISPs were told, in effect; ‘never mind.’
* * *
“Instead of creating a favorable environment for further development of Tajik IT enterprises, and ensuring their access to foreign markets, the regulator creates preposterous impediments,” said Asomiddin Atoev, the chairman of the Association of Internet Providers. “Tajikistan recently joined the World Trade Organization. The authorities simply do not realize the responsibility imposed by many WTO provisions. In particular, these include the creation of a favorable business environment, including in the IT sector, the creative industry, and [protection of] intellectual property,” Atoev added.
(Summary translation) Theologians at the Islamic Center of Tajikistan recommend media leaders and officials of the government's Committee on Religious Affairs to refrain from giving out fatwahs (in Islam, this is an explanation of a certain problem of a religious and legal nature, and also an answer to a question of a religious nature, which a competent person provides).
"A fatwah can be giving exclusively by the ulems of the Islamic Center and our doors are open to all citizens of the country," says the appeal, which was passed at a meeting of the Council of Ulems [Theologians] of the Islamic Center of Tajikistan and distributed January 19."
"A democratic state gives the right to all people to express their opinion but in all developed countries, democracy is limited by the frameworks of the law. It is hard to imagine what would happen with our society if individual groupings, for the sake of their own interests, would interpret the canons of shariah in their own way," says the statement.
Nuriddin Karshibayev, head of the National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan, has told Asia Plus that the ulems announcment is only a "recommendation" because the Constitution prohibits censorship.
"If the Council of Ulems believes our journalist do not know how to write materials on religious themes, please, let us organize trainings and teach them. But getting a fatwah, forgive me, that's not a lawful demand, and looks like interference in the professional activity of a journalist , which is an act punished under criminal law."
Muminabad has a population of 13,000 with 4 mosques; there are a total of 51 in the whole region.
Authorities Stop Store Owners from Adding Mosques (Asia Plus - Russian)
In the village of Muminabad (see some good pictures here), in the administrative center of Muminabad district of the Khatlon region, the owners of two private stores unlawfully tried to adapt them as mosques.
Sharif Abdylkhamidov, head of the Qulyab regional department of religious affairs, said authorities blocked the store owner on Tursunzade Street in Muminabad who had put in a separate entrance and turned the second floor of the store into a mosque.
The Tajik foreign minister has officially asked Russian authorities to
provide Dushanbe with historical documents related to borders between
former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
Hamrohon Zarifi told journalists on January 17 that the documents are needed to clarify Tajikistan's borders with neighboring Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in order to prevent problems like those experienced in Uzbekistan's Sokh district.
The presidents of Tajikistan and Russia signed an agreement in October to extend the presence of the Russian military base in Tajikistan for another 30 years. But Tajikistan is dragging its feet on the ratification of the deal, waiting first for Russia to carry out its part of the deal, to supply duty-free petroleum products and to loosen restrictions on labor migrants, according to a report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant. The Kremlin wanted all of these issues to be dealt with all at the same time, and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov just finished a visit to Dushanbe, where he attempted to iron out these issues.
Investors operating in three post-Soviet Central Asian republics face an “extreme risk” of having their businesses expropriated, according to a survey released last week in the UK.
Maplecroft, a Bath-based political risk consultancy, said on January 9 that it had found plenty of reasons to be wary of the business climate in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan after “evaluating the risk to business from discriminatory acts by the government that reduces ownership, control or rights of private investments either gradually or as a result of a single action.” Recent fits of resource nationalism in Kyrgyzstan -- where the Kumtor gold mine, operated by Toronto-based Centerra Gold, accounted for 12 percent of GDP in 2011 and more than half the country’s industrial output – and rampant authoritarianism in places like Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have led Maplecroft to rank these countries among the most risky in the world.
"We're Proud that President's Son Works in Customs" (h/t @joshuakucera) - Russian
Ever since Rustam Emomali (the eldest son of the president of Tajikistan) began working at the Customs Agency, this service has obtained good results. This was stated today at a press conference by Nemat Rahmatov, first deputy of the Customs Service of the government of Tajikistan.
"Only in the course of the last year, 88 million somoni were sent to the country's budget by preventing contrabrand of goods. We are proud that the son of the head of state works in our agency, and we hope Rustam Emomali will continue his activity in the customs service," said Rahmatov.
Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133 work with the Tajik Army to rebuild, restore and remodel various buildings on Shamsi Military Base in Tajikistan. NMCB 133 is deployed with Commander, Task Group 56.2, promoting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Derek R. Sanchez/Released)
Builder Constructionman Taylor Mendonca, assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, teaches a Tajik soldier how to shim cross slats while building a roof during an international relations project with the Tajik Army. NMCB 133 is deployed with Commander, Task Group 56.2, promoting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the US. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Derek R. Sanchez/Released)
NMCB 133 Conducts First Mission in Tajikistan (US Navy) h/t @joshuakucera
U.S. Navy Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB)
133 deployed to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in November as part of a Global
Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), the first Seabee mission in
In support of the Office of Military Cooperation (OMC) and Tajikistan Ministry of Defense (MOD), the Seabee crew began construction alongside the MOD's construction force, the Stroibat, on phase one of a $1 million project at the Peace Support Operation Training Center (PSOTC) at Shamsi Base, funded by GPOI.
To help boost the local economy and establish lasting relationships with contractors and vendors, the building materials were procured in nearby street vendor markets by Utilitiesman 1st Class Justin Walker, the Seabee project supervisor, and Air Force contracting officer, 1st Lt. Sunset Lo. The vendors delivered the materials in a timely manner, enabling the project to move forward on schedule.
A car with US Embassy license plates (004 D 055) in Dushanbe was involved in a hit-in-run accident which killed Loik Sharali on December 29, 2012, Asia Plus reports. Police are investigating, and the US Embassy says they are cooperating.
Lots of "Yankee Go Home" in the comments there, and recollections of how the US disregarded diplomatic immunity for a Georgian diplomat who killed a girl in an accident in the US.
Coaches Handed Over in Dushanbe (Railway Gazette)
The 15 coaches including a restaurant car were ordered from Ukrainian manufacturer Kriukov Car Building Works. Similar to vehicles previously supplied to Kazakhstan, they are designed for use in temperatures between -45°C and 40°C and are to be deployed on Dushanbe - Moscow services.
From Congressional Research Service by Jim Nichols.
The United States has been Tajikistan's largest bilateral donor, budgeting $988.57 million of aid for Tajikistan (FREEDOM support Act and agency budgets) over the period from fiscal year 1992 through fiscal year 2010, mainly for food and other hunmanitarian needs. Budgeted assistance for FY2011 was $44.48 million, and estimated assistance for FY2012 was $45.02 million. The Administration requested $37.41 million in foreign assistance for Tajikistan in FY2013 (these FY2011-FY2013 figures exclude most Defense and Energy Department programs).