Migration, Human Rights Considered at Expert Conference
Human rights quandaries and socio-economic dilemmas in Central Asia and the Caucasus are being discussed at a convention of leading scholars and experts on the Former Soviet Union.
The thirty-second annual convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies began November 9 in Denver, Colorado. Organizers say about 1800 experts are attending the conference, which runs through November 12.
At one November 10 roundtable discussion - titled "Russia's Torn Safety Nets: Health and Social Welfare During the Transition" - scholars examined the causes and potential consequences of migratory movements in Central Asia. Discussion focused on developments in Kazakhstan which underscore the challenges that migration poses for the maintenance of regional stability. Some scholars said that migration patterns serve as a good gauge of stability.
According to statistics compiled by state agencies, Kazakhstan continues to experience a net outflow of residents. During the first half of 2000, the net loss in population totaled 53,239, up from 45,491 during the same period in 1999. About 72% of those emigrating departed for CIS countries, primarily Russia. Over half of émigrés were ethnic Russians.
The primary cause of emigration is discontent over measures to promote the Kazakh language and culture. Large numbers of Russians in Kazakhstan, who live primarily in northern areas of the country, are concerned that the rights of Russian speakers may suffer. Many of these departing Russians possess technical expertise and specialized labor skills. Thus, the ongoing emigration is potentially damaging to economic stabilization efforts in Kazakhstan.
At the same time, Kazakh officials appear more concerned with immigration than they do with emigration. Specifically, officials have expressed alarm over the unsanctioned influx of small numbers of Afghans and other nationals from Southwest Asia. In early October, security officials announced they had broken up a smuggling ring that was bringing Afghans across borders illegally, using Kazakhstan as a transit hub. The main destination for many of the illegals was Russia, officials alleged. Authorities view such illegal migration as an outgrowth of narcotics trafficking and the Islamic insurgency that is aimed at ousting Uzbek president Islam Karimov. [For more information, see Eurasia Insight Archive.]
Participants concluded that migration patterns can provide an indicator of stability in Central Asia and the Caucasus. The large numbers of people on the move suggest that officials in Kazakhstan and other states face mounting challenges to stability. In addition to underlying political and economic factors, a drought that has caused extensive crop damage in the region could intensify current migration trends.
At other convention panels:
Cassandra Cavanaugh, an expert from Human Rights Watch, lamented the stance of western countries on the promotion of rule of law in the region. Cavanaugh cited the Council of Europe's November ninth decision to formally accept Azerbaijan as a full member of the organization. [For more information, click here]. The decision came just days after Heidar Aliev's government staged parliamentary elections that were deemed fraudulent by international monitors, including those from the OSCE.
Another November 10 panel focused on the topic of Russia's historical attitudes toward the peoples of Central Asia. The "complexities" of Russia's Asian orientation have fueled a debate about Russia's national identity for centuries. Some participants noted that Russian policies toward Central Asia have often been imbued with a notion of a "civilizing mission." Others suggested that Russia's relations with its Central Asian territories were more two-way in nature than is generally recognized.