EurasiaChat: China, Islam... and love in Philadelphia
Also, the state of morality in Uzbekistan as the state seeks to curb excess piety and unlawful immorality.
In this edition of the EurasiaChat podcast, Alisher Khamidov shares some insights on his recent stay in the U.S. city of Philadelphia, which he describes as being like a “new Almaty or new Tashkent” for all the Central Asian migrants that have settled there.
Alisher was on a quest to find love, which, unfortunately, ended fruitlessly. What he did find, however, were communities of Kyrgyz, Tajiks and Uzbeks thriving in the service sector. The trucking business has proven a particularly lucrative pursuit for Uzbeks, he explained.
Last week saw the holding of the first-ever in-person Central Asia-China heads of state summit.
The event was high on spectacle and fairly low on substance, but diplomacy is often a matter of optics. So, it was notable to consider the contrast between the summit in the city of Xian and the last time all five presidents of Central Asia met in person, which was at the Victory Day May 9 parade in Moscow.
Proceedings at the event in the Russian capital were subdued and several of the visiting leaders gave the impression of being reluctant guests of a bellicose President Vladimir Putin. The mood in China, on the other hand, was festive. What does this contrast tell us about the bigger picture?
It is the fate of a former president that has occupied many people’s thoughts in Kyrgyzstan of late. Earlier this month, a journalist traveled to Belarus to interview Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted and forced into exile following a deadly uprising in April 2010.
There has been much criticism of this interview amid concerns an exercise in rehabilitating Bakiyev is being covertly attempted by the Kyrgyz authorities. Suspicions have abounded for more than a year now that President Sadyr Japarov, who came to power in 2020, may even allow his one-time boss to return to the country and avoid prosecution.
A more generous reading of events is that Japarov is not seeking to rehabilitate anybody, but rather that he spies an opportunity to put Kyrgyzstan’s troubled history behind it in the interests of ending the country’s recurring cycles of political turbulence.
In October 2021, Uzbekistan appointed a new mufti, which is to say the head of a quasi-governmental body overseeing the country’s Muslims.
Nuriddin Kholiknazarov’s agenda since that time has been to restore the paramount status of the muftiate and to contain the influence of increasingly independent-minded imams across the country. The concern among those who advocate for the supremacy of state-sanctioned Islam is that some clerics have been harnessing social media to build up their profile, and thereby cultivating political clout – something that the authoritarian government views with unease.
Last week, police in Uzbekistan announced that they had arrested a ring they suspect of running a Telegram channel – or many channels, more likely – that published nude photographs of women as part of a blackmail campaign. Victims of these invasions of privacy were allegedly invited to pay money to have the images removed. In another source of revenue, the same group offered paying subscribers access to more explicit imagery than that featured on the main channel.
The episode is deeply troubling in how it points to widespread contempt for women’s dignity in some sectors of Uzbek society. The hope is that recently adopted legislation on gender-based crime will go some way to mitigating this phenomenon.
And finally, Tajikistan’s bid to build its giant Roghun hydropower dam received an important fillip last week when it was revealed that a China-based international financial institution is pledging to provide a soft loan worth $500 million to fund continuation of the project.
The whole undertaking has been decades in the making, but the double hammer blows of COVID-19 and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which is highly important to the Tajik economy, has compromised Dushanbe’s spending power. This has prompted President Emomali Rahmon to rattle the tin in search of foreign financial support, and it seems his efforts are being rewarded.
Peter Leonard is Eurasianet’s Central Asia editor.
Alisher Khamidov is a writer based in Bishkek.
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