Race, Religion, Ethnicity and Economics
in Central Asia
Geoffrey J. Jukes
Kirill Nourzhanov & Mikhail Alexandrov
Copyright (c) 1998 by
the Slavic Research Center
. All rights reserved.
Sovietisation of Central Asia envisaged establishing a modern industrial-type
society devoid of social antagonisms, where social interests would be uniform
and national distinctions erased. Implementing this policy involved (a) accelerating
economic growth, urbanisation and cultural development to "catch up" with
the European USSR; (b) secularising the societies, liquidating traditional
patterns of socialisation, dismantling local ties and parochial loyalties;
(c) installing a new mode of socialisation, based on uniform communist values;
and (d), creating viable "Soviet" nations based on existing ethnic groups.
Why this Soviet experiment ultimately failed is beyond the scope of this
paper. It is, however, imperative to try to understand why over almost seven
decades it failed to assimilate Central Asians as "new Soviet men". It appears
that three factors - the family, religious community and sub-ethnic regionalism
- were able to challenge the state agencies' monopoly on making and enforcing
rules. The traditional family in particular retained its main values and
its adaptive role vis-a-vis society almost intact; a sociological survey
conducted in eleven republics and regions of the USSR in 1988-90 showed,
for example, that 49% of Tajiks were guided in their behaviour primarily
by rules prescribed by the family, versus only 26% of Muscovites.
In times of political instability and economic decline, traditional
institutions have tended to play an increasing part in providing security
and welfare to the Central Asian populace. Cummunism, though the only sanctioned
political system, could not transform what Shmuel Eisenstadt has called the
"second level" of organisational activities, i e traditional collectivities
and communities, "whose systemic boundaries are organised or patterned around
symbols or likeness of common attributes and of participation in them, but
which are not necessarily structured as systems with clear organisational
This paper will attempt to indicate the linkages between economic
and social factors in Central Asia, and to draw some conclusions about the
future of the region in general and Russia's role in it in particular. First
some points have to be made about the economic situation.
Six years into an unsought independence, the Central Asian states,
which were among the poorest in the Former Soviet Union (hereafter FSU) appear,
except for Tajikistan, to have experienced a smaller average economic decline
than any other part of the CIS. Nevertheless, the declines have been very
substantial. Their extent can be illustrated by the fact that Uzbekistan
is considered an economic success story because its per capita GNP in 1996
was 82-84% of its 1989 level. Declines elsewhere in the CIS have been far
greater, with 1996 per capita GNP ranging from 58% of 1989's in Russia to
20% in Georgia. Among the Central Asians, Kyrgyzstan, with a per capita GNP
50-55% of the 1989 level, has done slightly better than the FSU average,
and Kazakstan (45%) slightly worse. No figures are available for Turkmenistan,
because its official data, which show consistent year-on-year growth since
independence, are no longer considered credible. The CIS Statkom, European
and International Banks for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD & IBRD
or "World Bank") and other major international agencies do not use or publish
them. Uzbekistan and Kazakstan both claimed a 1% increase in GNP in 1996,
but this is well within margins of statistical incompleteness or error, and
even if correct, too small to be taken as evidence that their economic decline
has yet bottomed out. As for inflation, the lowest annual rate in Central
Asia in 1996 was 31.9%, in Kyrgyzstan. In Tajikistan per capita GNP declined
in 1996 by 18%, to only around 37% of its 1989 level, at which Tajikistan
was already the poorest country in the FSU. For comparative purposes, it
should be noted that in the first three years of the Great Depression, per
capita GNP in the United States declined by 1932 to 78% of the 1929 level.
The general economic decline within the FSU is therefore far greater than
that which affected the capitalist world in the 1930s, and has been accompanied
by high inflation, which was not the case in the Great Depression. It has
involved seven years of almost uninterrupted annual falls of several percent
in GDP and of slashing of capital investment as well; so it is not unreasonable
to regard it as the greatest economic crisis of all time, and to be sceptical
about statements from the World Bank and elsewhere which describe it as a
"temporary decline in welfare" or a purely transitional problem.
Poverty, like wealth, is seldom shared out equally between or within ethnic
groups, but inequality of poverty is far harder to bear than inequality of
wealth, and because Central Asia, like the rest of the FSU, had become accustomed
over several decades to a modest but gradually improving or at worst stable
standard of living backed by non-cash benefits in the shape of comprehensive
health, education and welfare services, the decline which began in the perestroika
period and accelerated after independence has accentuated inter-ethnic and
Problems in inter-ethnic relations in Central Asia are sometimes
attributed to the arbitrary nature of the inter-state boundaries laid down
by Stalin early in the Soviet period. The reasons for making the delimitation
included factors which made arbitrariness unavoidable; Lenin's early belief
that it mattered little where frontiers were drawn, because global Communist
victory was imminent and would make them superfluous, was one of them, and
so was the absence of any significant local political pressure for a single
united Turkestan Republic. But more important were that the sedentary societies
of the previous Emirates and Russian Turkestan had been separated by deserts
rather than demarcated frontiers, that the ethnic groups had over centuries
become so intermingled that any state based on one major local ethnicity
was bound to have significant minorities of the others (and of Russians)
within its borders, and that nomadism, inconsistent with fixed borders, was
the dominant way of life of the major ethnic group (the Kazaks) in the former
Steppe Governorate, and widespread in the rest of Central Asia. Considerations
such as ensuring reasonably equal access to water for agriculture also played
a part in the drawing of the borders.
But problems of ethnic relations arising from the way the
borders were drawn are parallelled by economic problems arising from Soviet
planning which ignored the borders altogether, and treated the entire Union
as a single economic space. Thus Uzbekistan, despite being the largest fruit
and vegetable producer in the FSU, is not self-sufficient in food, because
over 40% of its agricultural land is devoted to cotton-growing; despite producing
90% of the FSU's cotton, it had to import cotton textiles, which were manufactured
elsewhere in the Union; and despite producing one-third of Soviet gold, it
was in per capita GNP the second poorest republic in the FSU. Tajikistan's
northern province produced cotton and textiles, but exported them to Russia,
while its southern provinces imported cotton textiles from Russia; and one
of the world's largest aluminium smelters was built in Tajikistan, even though
of the three main requirements for aluminium production - bauxite, cryolite
and electricity - it possesses only the last.
Similar problems can be found all over the FSU, in agriculture
as well as in industry. In all the Central Asian republics agriculture occupies
a far higher percentage of the population than in Russia, but only Kazakstan
is self-sufficient in food production. Grandiose Soviet-era irrigation projects
undertaken in the interests of cotton production have reduced the Aral Sea
to one-third its former area, while leakage, evaporation and uneconomical
use of water (supplied free of charge, so that there was no incentive to
economise in its use) meant that up to two-thirds of the water extracted
from the rivers is wasted. The scale of the wastage can be inferred from
figures for non-domestic water consumption in cubic metres per capita per
annum. They are for 1994, but the disparities they show between countries
are too large to be significantly altered in the period since then. The first
column contains five high-income industrialised countries, the second four
countries with climates similar to Central Asia, the third Russia and the
Central Asian countries.*4
- Turkmenistan's extremely high per capita water consumption
derives mainly from its small population and dependence for irrigation water
on the Kara Kum (now Turkmenbashi) Canal. This runs well over 800 km from
the Amu Darya through the Kara Kum Desert, where summer temperatures engender
high losses from evaporation, added to which there is substantial seepage
through the unsealed banks and bed. But all the Central Asian republics show
very high consumption compared to Australia and to the four countries in
Column 2, which have similarly hot climates and economies in which agriculture,
including cotton growing, occupies an important place.
- A similar problem created by arbitrarily fixed Soviet-era
low prices and indifference to costs is exceedingly inefficient use of energy.
In the table below the same countries are compared, this time in terms of
the GDP per capita in US Dollars generated in 1994 for a given consumption
- It emerges that even the USA and Australia, neither
particularly economical in using energy to create wealth compared to European
countries or Japan, nevertheless have results four to seven times as good
as those of the FSU countries. The disparity between the worst, Kazakstan,
and the best, Kyrgyzstan, is less important than the FSU's uniformly low
results compared not only to the high-income countries but to low-income
Egypt and lower-middle income Turkey.
- Where, as in the FSU, exceedingly uneconomic use
of such basic resources as water and energy has become entrenched over more
than two generations, no quick recovery can be expected, and any recovery
at all is dependent on large-scale capital investment in both agriculture
and industry. Soviet-made equipment, produced by enterprises safeguarded
against foreign competition by import bans or tariff barriers, and usually
possessing at least regional monopolies which ruled out domestic competition,
has not often proved the best of its kind,
and tended also to be retained in service far longer than is usual in non-Communist
so a massive capital investment in updating is necessary. However, in Central
Asia gross domestic investment in 1996 compared to 1988 was 97.2% in Tajikistan,
65.9% in Uzbekistan, 55% in Kyrgyzstan, and only 15.5% in Kazakstan
(Turkmenistan claimed an unbelievable 210.8% in 1994, and data for subsequent
years are not published). In Russia it was only 26.2% of the 1988 level,
so Russia cannot currently serve as in the Soviet period as a significant
provider of capital investment to Central Asia. Most funding therefore has
to come from outside the CIS, whether as private sector investment or as
grants or credits from governments and international institutions.
- Instability of the local currencies has, as in
Russia, created a preference for use of the US Dollar and other hard currencies,
currency black markets, with the criminal activities and flights of capital
associated with such markets, and complications for foreign investors additional
to those already created by uncertainties in legislation and arbitrariness
or inconsistency in its application.
- The effects of prolonged impoverishment on
inter-ethnic relations in such heterogeneous societies as those of Central
Asia are likely to be unfavourable, because poverty is seldom evenly spread
between ethnicities, and minorities are often made scapegoats for it. The
most obvious targets in Central Asia are the Russian communities, which except
in Russian-majority Northern Kazakstan are concentrated in urban centres
and higher-paid occupations as skilled workers, managers and professionals.
So far, however, inter-ethnic violence has mostly been between locals rather
than specifically anti-Russian.*9
But with growing local nationalism, erosion of former privileged status,
worsening economic conditions compared to Russia's,
and a pessimistic view of a future in which locals will be in charge and
fluency in their language obligatory, Russians who can obtain work elsewhere,
i e in general the best qualified, have been leaving in quite large numbers
especially from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. However, this exodus
only intensifies a trend which began in the late 1970s, and accelerated in
the years of perestroika. Between 1980 and 1990 emigration of Russians from
Central Asia exceeded immigration to there by 850,000; their numbers increased
very slightly in Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan, but fell in the other three republics,
and their proportion of the population fell substantially in all five because
of the indigenes' much higher birthrates.
Already in 1990 more than twice as many Russians left Central Asia as arrived
Awareness of the economic damage continuation of this exodus could do prompted
Turkmenistan to grant dual citizenship to its Russian population in December
1993, and Tajikistan to follow suit in September 1995, but Presidents Nazarbaev
of Kazakstan and Karimov of Uzbekistan have declared themselves opposed to
the very principle of dual citizenship (apparently for fear that to grant
it to Russians could engender pressure for similar concessions from the large
numbers of Central Asians who live as minorities in other Central Asian countries,
e g Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan, or Tajiks in Uzbekistan), and President Akayev,
while declaring himself in favour of it, failed to persuade the Kyrgyz Parliament
to approve it. In Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan parliamentary elections in 1995
and 1996 respectively have given Russians cause for additional apprehension,
as in both countries the number of Russian Deputies returned is far lower
than their proportion of the electorates.
- French scholar Olivier Roy was the first
analyst in the West to single out "the influence of political loyalties based
on geographic origin" in the conflict in Tajikistan, defining it as "localism".
Roy's work, however, is somewhat sketchy, and its other major postulate,
that the present fragmentation is largely a product of the Soviet period,
could be misleading.
- In this paper a region is defined as
an area which has:
-distinctive physical traits, eg climate,
length of growing season, vegetation;
-special cultural characteristics
- e g, dialect, costume, architecture, use of given tools, rituals, what
is referred to as a 'culture area' in anthropology;
-natural and artificial barriers,
e g mountain ranges, administrative borders;
-a focus, such as a trade centre and/or
political or historical capital;
-an ad hoc problem: environmental
pollution, crime, ethnic tension, etc.*16
- Taking Tajikistan as an example,
the crucial point about regionalism is that, unlike America or Europe, it
does not denote the interrelationship between the several areas in the total
nation, and has a pronounced divisive meaning.
- Administrative demarcation in Soviet
Tajikistan was largely implemented along pre-existent boundaries. The six
constituent regions became incorporated into the all-union division of labour,
but economic integration between them remained low. For example, 75% of Tajikistan's
light industry was located in the northern Leninabad oblast, and most of
its output, primarily textiles, was exported to other Soviet republics; at
the same time, the southern regions had to import fabrics from Russia. Soviet
economic policy, however, was only one element in Tajikistan's intricate
mosaic of inter-regional interests and contradictions.
- Statements by Soviet authorities
that the spread of literacy, general rise of culture caused by industrialisation
and reconstruction of agriculture had made the groups of Tajiks closer to
each other were not convincing. No "Socialist Tajik nation" ever eventuated;
moreover, tensions among the six historico-geographical regions of Tajikistan
intensified as the grotesquely uneven development patterns endured. They
could be checked temporarily by coercion (such as campaigns against mestnichestvo
["Localism"] under Stalin and Khrushchev) or by channelling more resources
from the centre (as under Brezhnev), but they were always present.
- Interaction amongst regional
elites has formed and forms the core of all symbolic processes (including
political ideas, public ideologies and development strategies) and practical
endeavours. During the Brezhnev era, the party-state structure demonstrated
an almost infinite capacity to control regional ambitions in the republics.
Moscow's "stabil'nost' kadrov" (stability of cadres) policy allowed the web
of informal "understandings" and exchanges amongst regional elites to become
institutionalised. As long as a region fulfilled its economic obligations
to the Union and complied with the general line prescribed by the CPSU, Moscow
did not seem to object to the peculiarities of local personnel policy.
- In Tajik Academician Tursunov's
words, "regionalism has firmly settled in the consciousness of our people,
and not its backward section at that; regionalistic self-awareness manifests
itself at all levels of social stratification, especially, to our shame,
amidst the intelligentsia". Within the rigid framework of the Soviet system
it could never acquire the form of violent political action. Moreover, it
had been de facto institutionalised and, henceforth, could be controlled
and manipulated to some extent. The ruling regional elite from Leninabad
did not need to invoke traditional institutions of power to maintain its
privileged position - its legitimacy was guaranteed by Moscow. Generally,
in the Soviet period traditional social structures and popular Islam on the
one hand, and regionalism on the other operated on different planes - private
and public. However, these phenomena were closely linked, and there always
remained a possibility that informal networks would be activated as the primary
mechanism for establishing the authority of a regional clique.
- The Soviet drive to modernise
Central Asia yielded ambiguous results. Accelerated economic development,
growth of education, secularisation of culture and political mobilisation
of the masses altered the fabric of society considerably. The profundity
and irreversibility of these changes, however, were questionable. After all,
seventy years of the Communist experiment was not comparable in historical
perspective with millennia of a continuous cultural tradition. Modernity
presumes that "local ties and parochial perspectives give way to universal
commitments and cosmopolitan attitudes; that the truths of utility, calculation,
and science take precedence over those of the emotions, the sacred, and the
non-rational; that the individual rather than the group be the primary unit
of society and politics... that the identity be chosen and achieved, not
ascribed and affirmed..." The most important failure of Soviet rule consisted
in its inability to reform the Weltanschauung, traditional allegiances and
omnipresent spirit of collectivism, that made an individual completely dependent
on such institutions as the family, neighbourhood, solidarity network and
coterie of fellow-regionalists.
- In a handful of cities,
at industrial enterprises and scholarly institutions, in government agencies,
social praxis ostensibly was no different from patterns of mono-organisational
Socialism elsewhere in the USSR. At the same time, in rural areas that were
of little interest to Moscow-based industrialisers, and where even the People's
Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD) proved uninterested in or incapable
of setting up a network of informers,*17
an ethnocultural mentality based on traditional patrimonialism, popular
Islam and regionalism survived, and any breakdown in the mechanisms of social
control would inexorably transpose it into the realm of political action.
The collapse of the Soviet Union was just such a breakdown.
- On Human Rights in
general, the position is patchy,*18
with no progress in Turkmenistan, slight progress in Uzbekistan, and some
regression in the other three republics. President Niyazov of Turkmenistan
continued to employ all the apparatus of Stalinism except mass executions,
and political dissidents are harried, including being forcibly seized in
other CIS countries and taken back to Turkmenistan to be charged with offences
such as "insulting the President", "insulting the police", "preparing acts
of terrorism", "preparing to overthrow the government", or involvement in
drug or arms trafficking. Niyazov in October 1996 officially opened an Institute
of Democracy and Human Rights in Ashgabat;
but the effects of this attempt to improve his poor international image
were somewhat dissipated by his description of the Institute's purpose as
"protecting the Presidency from the influence of other branches of power",
and his warning to citizens not to take their complaints too far. He has
courted public acceptance by providing benefits, notably free gas, electricity
and water, monthly allowances of butter, sugar, flour and meat at 1/50th
of market prices, and very cheap petrol.
However, a number of signs emerged during 1996 that economic problems were
increasing and having social consequences. From 1 January 1996 student stipends
were doubled, the minimum wage almost trebled, and pensions and child support
trebled. In March 1996 the price of bread was increased by 150%; in June
Niyazov denounced official corruption and links with criminal organisations;
in July the subsidy on petrol prices was reduced and the quantity rationed
to 100 litres a month, and free electricity supply to households was capped,
with consumption above a monthly limit to be charged at the rate paid by
industry. In January 1997 the ration of subsidised flour was cut for urban
residents from 8 to 6 kilos a month, and its availability confined to those
earning less than 200,000 Manat (about $US 37) a month.
On 14 January 1997 Niyazov stated that in 1996 crime had risen by 16% nationally
and by 19% in the capital, prostitution had become widespread, involving
girls as young as 12 or 13, and that police were profiting from it and from
On 4 February he announced that from 1 March salaries of government employees
and the military would be doubled. Meanwhile the exchange rate for the Manat
has declined catastrophically compared to all other Central Asian currencies.
Of the three introduced during 1993 the fall between the end of that year
and the end of April 1997 has been: for the Turkmen Manat, from 2 to 5,300,
a fall of 2,650 times; for the Kyrgyz Som from 8 to 17.9, or 2.29 times;
the Kazak Tenge from 6.31 to 76.53, or 12.1 times. The Uzbek Sum (introduced
in July 1994), fell from 25 to 58.1, or 2.32 times, and the Tajik Ruble (July
1995) from 293 to 420, a fall of 1.43 times. For comparison the Russian Rouble
fell between 31 December 1993 and 30 April 1997 from 1247 to the Dollar to
5762, or by 4.62 times, almost exactly double the fall in the Kyrgyz and
Niyazov appears to have no challengers, but a regime combining oppressiveness
with impoverishment must be considered potentially unstable.
- At the end of 1996
the annual survey by Freedom House classed Turkmenistan and Tajikistan among
the seventeen most oppressive regimes in the world, noted some improvement
in Uzbekistan (which up to and including its 1995 survey had also been classed
among the most oppressive), classified all three and Kazakstan as "not free"
and Kyrgyzstan as "partly free". This last was surprisingly generous; Kyrgyzstan
(the only Central Asian country where the President was not formerly the
head of the country's Communist Party; President Akayev had headed the Kyrgyz
Academy of Sciences) had hitherto been very much the West's favourite for
its free press and freedom of political activity, as well as for being the
Central Asian country which appeared to accept World Bank recommendations
most assiduously. But the US State Department's annual human rights survey
of 1996, which appeared on 30 January 1997, while agreeing with Freedom House
in classing Turkmenistan and Tajikistan as "worst", and Uzbekistan as not
much better, diplomatically noted that the growth of Presidential power in
Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan had "caused them to lag in the development of democracy
and human rights". Human Rights Watch used less bland language, referring
to a "dramatic deterioration" in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan during 1996.
- In December 1996
a new "Movement for Deliverance from Poverty in Kyrgyzstan" held its founding
Congress. One of its founders was at once arrested and detained for fifteen
days, another, formerly Rector of the Humanities University, was charged
with embezzlement of university funds, and in January 1997 sentenced to ten
years' imprisonment with confiscation of all his property, despite evidence
from the university's accountant that it had no claim against him. The sentence
was somewhat reduced on appeal, but a journalist employed by the newspaper
Kriminal was threatened with legal action for his reporting of the trial,
and the Ministry of Justice ordered the newspaper closed. Later that month
the Movement for Deliverance from Poverty applied for registration as an
official opposition party, blaming government policy for wage arrears, deterioration
of social services and falling living standards.
- The new Constitution
of Kazakstan was put to a referendum on 30 August 1995, and despite being
boycotted by all Opposition parties, a 90% turnout and 89% approval were
officially claimed. These figures were challenged by a Human Rights organisation,
which monitored 622 polling stations and found the average turnout only 34%.
The new constitution, which gives the President much expanded powers, was
criticised by the US Embassy as "undemocratic".
- From mid-1996
reports of popular unrest and socio-economic problems in Kazakstan became
more frequent. A new pensions law, increasing pensionable age from 60 to
63 for men and 55 to 58 for women, and removing a number of special provisions
for earlier payment to occupations such as miners and teachers, was passed
by the Parliament in June only after first being rejected, and despite protests
from the normally acquiescent trade union movement. In June also the government
had to intervene in the troubled agricultural sector by writing off half
of all its debt and all of its arrears in payments for electricity supplied
up to 1 May. In August the national airline was declared bankrupt, and so
was a major bank. In October Russia cut off electricity supplies to parts
of North Kazakstan, claiming $420 million in unpaid bills, and that Kazak
coal supplied to Troitsk power station was only 40% of that contracted. Kazakstan
riposted by terminating supply of coal to all fourteen power stations in
Omsk oblast. In October to December there were demonstrations of up to 4,000
people in Almaty, Shymkent and other centres against low living standards,
interruptions in supplies of electricity and fuel, and lack of democratic
rights. In November also the government appeared to put pressure on independent
TV and radio stations, shutting some of them down on claimed invalidity of
their licences and for allegedly using frequencies which interfered with
those used by air trafflc controllers. A tendering process was introduced
in January 1997, but several stations were again banned in February. In January
254 workers at a metal plant in South Kazakstan, later joined by local transport
workers, struck for payment of wage arrears, as did 1,500 teachers in Semipalatinsk
A leader of the independent trade union federation claimed that some of
the striking metal workers had not been paid for two years, and warned that
a wave of strikes could sweep the country if wage arrears remained unpaid.
Arrears of wages and pensions were estimated as approaching $1 billion, and
there were fears that the increase in money supply if they were all suddenly
paid would cause drastic devaluation of the Tenge.
Later another union leader appealed for international aid, claiming there
was widespread famine and over one-third of households had no heating, electricity
An independent research institute challenged the official unemployment rate
of 3.6%, estimating it as at least four times the official figure of 236,000,
and noting that in a survey of 1,513 respondents in eight oblasts, 28.8%
had had no fixed employment for several months.
- In Uzbekistan,
on the other hand, there were some apparent advances in the human rights
field. In March 1996 an OSCE mission visited Tashkent to discuss human rights
violations and drug control policy with the Human Rights Commissioner and
the Justice Minister. On 25 June Karimov met President Clinton in Washington,
and human rights were among the issues discussed. Laundering of Uzbekistan's
image was clearly an objective of Karimov's visit to the USA; it can hardly
have been coincidence that on the day after the Washington meeting, George
Soros' Open Society Institute opened an office in Tashkent. In July Karimov
held a press conference, at which he defined the "next tasks" as reforms
in the areas of human rights and individual freedoms, and went on to list
opposition parties, a Western-style press and observation of citizen's rights
as essential to Uzbekistan's continued development and as "assuring democracy".
In August Abdulmanop Pulatov, a dissident leader living in exile in the USA
since 1993 returned to Tashkent on assurance from Karimov of his personal
safety and freedom to pursue political activities, and at the end of the
month Karimov told the Parliament that his government was committed to increased
cooperation with human rights organisations. Pulatov tested Karimov's promises
almost at once, by holding on 7 September a Congress of the Human Rights
Society, of which he is Chairman. Delegates to the Congress said that the
human rights situation was "beginning to improve". A further pointer in that
direction was the opening four days later of a three-day human rights conference
sponsored by OSCE, between Non-Governmental Organisations, government officials
and media representatives. However, Pulatov's Congress was kept until the
last moment in doubt as to whether it would be permitted to take place, and
the media representatives at the OSCE conference were government-selected.
- The agenda
of the parliamentary session that opened on 26 November 1996 contained a
number of democratisation proposals, including establishment of a government
institute to ensure that legislation conformed to international standards
of human rights and democracy, and laws on establishing political parties,
protecting journalists, and allowing greater access to state information.
But it also met in the shadow of the abduction and beating up of the son
of a leading dissident on 9 November.
in February 1997 said the main task for the year was to build a property-owning
middle class to be the "bedrock" of the state, and called for 1997 to be
a year of "human interests". What these statements meant remained to be seen,
but it may be significant that they went along with increased courting of
foreign investment (which doubled in 1996 compared to 1995), an increase
in the (hitherto slow) pace of privatisation, and a need to court the IMF,
which temporarily suspended a stand-by loan of $US 185 million because of
Uzbekistan's failure to cut inflation as much as planned. Two bad grain harvests
in succession and a $700 million shortfall in tax revenues also impaired
Uzbekistan's image as economically the most competent of the regional governments,
but a good cotton harvest secured 100,000 tonnes of wheat from Russia in
exchange for 18,200 tonnes of cotton.
Social Service Problems
Part of Central Asia's inheritance from the FSU was health services of scale,
comprehensiveness and costs comparable to those found in much wealthier European
"welfare states". As an example, the United Kingdom's very comprehensive
National Health Service employs 1 person in 52 of the labour force, whereas
in Kazakstan in 1989 the figure was 1 in 41. Budgets have declined to the
extent that wages (often paid months in arrears) consume all or nearly all
available funds, leaving little or nothing for maintenance, let alone replacement,
of buildings and equipment or for supplies of pharmaceuticals. Public health
is also endangered by polluted water supplies, and inadequate storage and
handling on farms of herbicides and pesticides - for example, a substantial
rise in birth defects and infant mortality has been observed in rural areas
of Tajikistan, where agricultural labour is overwhelmingly female. The health
services and educational levels inherited from the Soviet period have ensured
infant mortality rates (deaths per 1,000 live births, Turkmenistan 60, Tajikistan
41, Kyrgyzstan 29, Uzbekistan 28, and Kazakstan 27) much lower than in most
other low or low-middle income countries, but high compared to Russia (19)
and very high compared to the high-income countries, which apart from Kuwait
(11) and the United Arab Emirates (16) are all in the range 4 to 8.
Another problem inherited by all the Central Asian countries from the FSU
is the loading of industrial enterprises with social responsibilities (provision
of housing, creches, health services, often schools and holiday homes) which
in market economies are undertaken by local authorities, the private sector,
or a mixture of both. Enterprises are in principle being relieved of these,
but the pace is slow and the process often resisted by management (because
enterprises known to provide good services find it easier to recruit and
retain good-quality labour), workers (through justified fears that rationalisation
means paying full costs for housing and services previously free or subsidised)
and local authorities (which lack the funds and experience for taking on
their new responsibilities).
While in Soviet Central Asia political institutions and political processes
were apparently completely freed from the influence of religion, Islam remained
a source of identity, transmitter of cultural tradition and, more generally,
way of life there. In the 1970s-1980s a kind of accommodation emerged between
the state and Islam, characterised by two non-contradictory parameters: (a)
state-sponsored secular institutions and norms of behaviour dominated the
public realm, and (b) the religion was tacitly recognised as an integral
element of private life. A unique sociological survey conducted in 1985 showed
that, e g, 55.6 percent of Tajik Communists regarded themselves as true Muslims.
At least two factors contributed to the Soviet regime's non-treatment of
Islam as a serious threat. First, so-called "official Islam", that segment
of religious life revolving around the functioning mosques, registered mullahs
and officially recognised religious communities, was closely monitored and
regulated. All working mosques and clerics were registered with the republican
branch (qoziyyot) of the Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of Central
Asia and Kazakstan, as well as with the Council for Religious Affairs. Official
mullahs were on the government payroll and their appointment subject to official
approval. Second, "parallel", or "popular" Islam, based on the activities
of clandestine Sufi/Naqshbandi orders and the great cultural tradition, and
not controlled by the state, had too apolitical a character and too diffuse
a structure to rally believers under an anti-Soviet political banner.
Popular Islam centres on a succession of ceremonies and rituals, most of
which date back to pre-Muslim times. Birth, coming of age, marriage and funeral
are landmark events for every family and kinship or neighbourhood community
(Mahalla). Their proper commemoration according to Islamic or, to be more
precise, local cultural tradition, is vitally important for any individual
or social group, in terms of maintaining their social status. But even day-to-day
life is largely regulated by beliefs which they perceive as Muslim, but which
in reality have more to do with ancient fertility cults and various agricultural
rites. The existence of a thriving institution of shamans, especially in
Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, testifies to this.
Furthermore, folk Islam was loyal to authority and rejected political struggle.
With this in mind, it should be easier to avoid the temptation to explain
retention of traditional customs solely as manifesting religious zeal against
the secular state - a theme fancied by some Western scholars during Soviet
rule, and even now. In 1991, the percentage of weddings conducted in the
presence of a mullah was 86.5% in Tajikistan, 80.1% in Turkmenistan, but
only 32.4% in Kazakstan.*33
Moreover, Islamic mores appear to be highly particularistic: for example,
Quranic views on exogamy are strictly observed amongst Tajiks whose ancestors
migrated from Herat (heroti), whereas mountain Tajiks by and large ignore
Islam is, of course, an important factor in the formation of national identities
in the newly independent Central Asian states, but its precise role and influence
are difficult to determine. Two and a half generations of Communist rule
on the one hand accustomed the society to a belief system that sought to
penetrate and control all aspects of private as well as public life, and
could therefore create receptivity to Islamic fundamentalism of the Taliban
variety. That this aspect of events in Afghanistan certainly engendered a
common concern between Russia and the Central Asian states was shown by their
reaction to the Taliban's capture of Kabul in August 1996. Russia's Defence
Minister immediately flew to Tashkent for meetings with his Central Asian
counterparts, and had a separate meeting with President Karimov before the
talks began. It is not yet clear whether the Taliban will succeed in gaining
control of Northern Afghanistan, with its mainly Uzbek, Turkmen and Tajik
populations; the debacle it suffered at Mazar-i-Sharif in May 1997 suggests
that the Afghan Civil War is far from ended, but has entered a new phase,
much closer than hitherto to the Central Asian borders. At the same time,
there are several reasons for Central Asian leaders to make much of the threat
posed by Islamic radicalism and equate it with fundamentalism, and no incentives
to play it down. One is that Soviet rule, while not eradicating Islam in
Central Asia, did have two marked effects; by eliminating the Jadidist modernisers
and driving Islam partly underground it tended to freeze it at its pre-1917
stage, and to separate it from the modernisation process, for which it created
a large body of secularised if not actively atheist locals, especially prominent
in the urban administrative elite and intelligentsia; existence of this large
and influential secularised stratum precludes reversion to the pre-1917 traditional
societies, let alone of their metamorphosis into theocracies. There is a
great difference between secularised ex-Communists re-acquiring some Islamic
credentials to enhance their political acceptability, and their embracing
or even tolerating a fundamentalist radicalism which the vast majority of
the Muslim world rejects. There is also no reason to believe that any substantial
numbers of Central Asian Muslims are attracted by fundamentalism. Surveys
made by Richard Dobson of USIA between August 1992 and March 1993
indicated that in Kazakstan 27%, in Kyrgyzstan 14% and in Uzbekistan 43%
of respondents did not believe in Islam, and 30%, 24% and 32% respectively
did not think Islam should play any larger role than it already did. Dobson's
fourth survey, of frequency of attendance at the mosque, showed that only
20% of believers attended once or more a month, whereas 46% attended once
a year or less.*35
With indigenous non-believers, and believers who worship once a year or
less, outnumbering by over three to one those who attend once or more a month,
there would seem to be little chance of Central Asia's succumbing to Islamic
fundamentalism. However, to play up the fundamentalist threat serves the
internal and foreign policy purposes of the ruling regimes of Central Asia
and also of Russia. Domestically it provides reasons why not only secularised
but also normal moderate Muslim locals and non-Muslim non-local minorities
should support their present leaders. Internationally it helps to engage
interest and support from Western countries, especially from influential
conservative elements which have already nominated Islam in general, and
Islamic fundamentalism in particular, as the "next enemy". These might well
baulk at assisting authoritarian regimes consisting of hastily recycled "previous
enemy" Communists and with dubious human rights records, but may be less
reluctant if those regimes can present themselves as the front line of defence
against an even more disagreeable alternative. It is tacitly also common
ground between the Russian and Central Asian leaders that potential foreign
investors are more interested in whether a country is stable than whether
it is democratic; all the Central Asian leaders, but especially Presidents
Karimov and Nazarbaev, make frequent references to the importance of the
political stability they claim to have delivered.
Russia, too, has strong incentives to emphasise the Islamic fundamentalist
threat. It has large, though mostly secularised, Muslim populations of its
own, particularly in Tatarstan and North Caucasus, and may consider itself
vulnerable to repetitions elsewhere of the Chechnya experience, even though
the Chechen rising was not initially motivated by religious differences,
and was led until his death by a secularised Chechen, former Soviet Air Force
Major-General Dzhokar Dudayev. And like the Central Asian regimes, it also
shares with the Central Asian regimes an interest in being perceived by the
West as holding the line for secularism against Islamic fundamentalism.
The key to the extent of Islam's future influence in Central Asia is Uzbekistan,
the most populous of the Central Asian republics, possessor of the ancient
Islamic centres of Bukhara and Samarkand, and influenced by the great Persian-Islamic
culture more and longer than any of the others except Tajikistan. Karimov's
fostering of national identity specifically links Islam and history. In May
1995 he decreed establishment of an lnternational Islamic Studies Centre
in Tashkent, to be a Research Institute of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences,
funded equally by the government and the Muslim Spiritual Board and charged
"to study the teachings and philosophy of Islam and the religious, historic
and cultural heritage of the Uzbek people".
He proclaimed 1996, the 660th anniversary of the birth of Amir Timur (Tamerlane),
"The Year of Timur"; in October 1995 he opened a Museum devoted to Timur
and his successors in Tashkent, and unveiled statues of him there, in his
birthplace (Sharhisabz) and in Samarkand.
In March 1996 it was announced that Uzbeks making the Hajj would receive
government assistance in organising the pilgrimage and completing the necessary
paperwork, and that the national airline would arrange flights.
However, no direct subsidisation appears to be involved, and secularism
remains state policy. The Law on Political Parties promulgated in January
1997 bans parties based on religion, ethnicity, or advocating war or subversion.
Russia and Central Asia
Russia's continuing interests in Central Asia are based on several factors.
The weightiest of them in foreign and economic policy terms is the perceived
need to preserve as far as possible a hegemonic position held since the late
18th century, and now seen as under greater threat than it ever was at the
height of the 19th century "Great Game" with British India. But in popular
perception and therefore in domestic politics probably even more important
is that despite several years of exodus there are still large populations
of ethnic Russians in all of the newly-independent states, and Russia's post-Soviet
military doctrine specifically includes protection of the lives and interests
of Russians living outside Russia among the missions of the Russian armed
forces. What this might involve is not spelled out, but the formulation at
least leaves open the possibility of Russian intervention in an inter-ethnic
conflict by unilateral Russian decision.
The seriousness of this possibility varies between Central Asian states.
In all of them the Russian population constitutes a majority of the urban
skilled workers and non-manual professionals, and Russian is the language
not only of administration and "modern" activities, but the lingua franca
of communication between most of the local ethnicities. Apart from the Bukhara-Samarkand
areas of Uzbekistan, where most Tajiks appear bilingual in Tajik and Uzbek,
bilingualism among the Central Asia ethnicities usually means knowledge of
one's native language plus Russian. In the old undivided politico-economic
spaces of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union few Russians bothered to acquire
a local language. In the perestroika period Kolbin, a Russian appointed by
Gorbachev to replace a Kazak (Kunayev) as First Secretary of the Kazakstan
Communist Party despite having no previous connection with Kazakstan, responded
to local unrest at his appointment by apparent concessions which made it
"advisable" for Russians to learn Kazak but a "civic duty" for Kazaks to
The post-Soviet elevation of local languages to the status of "state languages"
has therefore been viewed by the Russian population as a threat, even though
deadlines for learning them have either not been laid down or have allowed
ample time for doing so (in Kazakstan, for example, the legislation gives
Kazaks in administrative posts until 2005, and non-Kazaks until 2010, to
become proficient in Kazak). The erosion of a linguistically privileged position
is one of the factors prompting an exodus not only of Russians but, in Kazakstan's
case, of ethnic Germans as well. At its peak this population, comprising
wartime deportees from the Volga German Autonomous Republic and their descendants,
numbered 1.1 million, but two-thirds have exercised their right of "return"
to Germany, so that the number now remaining in Kazakstan is estimated at
only 350,000. Self-eradication of Kazakstan's German minority is not especially
welcome in Germany, which has channelled considerable funds to Kazakstan
to induce them to stay there. It is however, tacitly welcomed by Kazakstan,
because it reduces the likelihood that 1979's unsuccessful attempt to create
a German Autonomous Oblast around Tselinograd (Akmola) will be repeated;
and similarly by Russia, because it excludes a potential demand, open to
stimulation by poor economic conditions and recrudescent Kazak nationalism,
for repatriation to a restored German Volga Republic.
The foreign policy imperative, backed by the needs of economics, is to preserve
Russia's hegemonial position by countering outside influence-seeking. This
is seen as multi-faceted and originating from a number of countries. Turkey
has religious affinity with all the major local nationalities, ethnic and
linguistic affinities with all of them except the Tajiks, and a secular model
of statehood. As against that it has limited financial resources, a serious
ethnic problem with the Kurds, and despite several centuries of Ottoman domination
of the Islamic world, its post-Ottoman rulers have preferred to seek the
country's future in associating it more with secular Europe than with the
Muslim Middle East and Central Asia. Iran has ethnic and linguistic affinity
with the Tajiks, and long-standing cultural and religious status within the
Islamic world which modern Turkey lacks. But its Shiism divides it from most
of Central Asia, overwhelmingly Sunni except in the remote and thinly-populated
Gorno-Badakhshan area of Tajikistan, its clerically-dominated Islamic model
of statehood is emphatically unattractive to the ruling elites of Central
Asia, and despite its oil wealth, the parlous state of its economy limits
its ability to gain influence through financial aid. Saudi Arabia has money,
but a form of Islamic fundamentalist statehood which is totally unacceptable
to Central Asia's ruling elites and probably, to the extent that they know
about it, to most of their subjects as well. The Central Asian states are
diversifying their relations, including with the Islamic world of South and
South-East Asia, but it cannot be said that either Islam in the abstract
or specific Muslim states pose any serious challenge to Russia's political
or economic influence.
The major political and economic threats to Russia's predominance come in
the medium term from the United States, Western Europe and Japan, and in
the longer term from China as well. Central Asia's principal marketable assets
are minerals (gold, silver, copper, chrome), energy and chemical-industry
raw materials (gas, oil, coal) and cotton. US, Canadian, West European, Japanese
and Korean multinationals are already active, mostly in consortiums but also
with individual firms operating as joint venturers or sole contractors. For
example, in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium formed to link Kazakstan's onshore
Tengiz oilfield to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk, Russia has
a 44% share (Government 24%, Lukoil 12.5%, Rosneft 7.5%), and will derive
financial benefit from a third Russian company, Transneft, which is not part
of the consortium but will operate the pipeline after completion. The remaining
56% share is divided between the Kazakstan government (19%), the Oman government
(7%), US firms Chevron (15%) and Mobil (7.5%), Italian AGIP, British Gas
As the pipeline crosses Russian territory and terminates at a Russian port,
Kazakstan had to accept a high degree of Russian participation in the consortium,
and it is possible, though speculative, to argue that it sought Western involvement
not merely for technical and financial reasons, but because it makes Russian
interference with operations or pricing less likely than in a purely bilateral
That Kazakstan, where it has territorial control, seeks to minimise Russian
involvement can be inferred from the composition of the consortium developing
the Tengiz oilfield itself. Initially no Russian company was involved, but
at a late stage Chevron sold one-tenth of its 50% share to Lukoil. But with
Chevron retaining 45% and Mobil 25%, versus Lukoil's 5%, development of the
field is clearly in American hands (the Kazak company Munaigas holds the
The same consideration may apply in respect of two Soviet-built oil refineries
in Kazakstan, though Russian industry's inability to supply suitable equipment
may also be a factor. The larger of the two, at Pavlodar, was supplied with
oil from West Siberia, but has been idle because supply stopped owing to
Kazakstan's inability or unwillingness to pay.*41 The Kazakstan government
invited tenders for modernisation of both refineries. The six firms tendering
for the Pavlodar contract included two US, one Canadian, one British, two
local and no Russian; the contract went to US CCL. The smaller refinery,
at Aktyubinsk, attracted only one bid, from US multinational Exxon. A pipeline
is being laid from Tengiz to both refineries, to end or at least reduce dependence
on West Siberian oil. At the end of 1995 Exxon entered on an oil exploration
joint venture in an area (Myortvy Kultuk) on Kazakstan's Caspian coast, south
of the Tengiz field.
Similar resistance to Russian influence-seeking was apparent in the long
drawn-out negotiations over division of the Caspian. Disagreement centred
on whether it is a sea or, having no outlets, is a lake. In the former case
Law of the Sea would apply, and each riparian country would have an Exclusive
Economic Zone extending halfway to the opposite coast, whereas in the latter
case division is a matter for mutual agreement. The effect of defining the
Caspian as a sea would be to confine Russia to its north-west corner, the
least promising for offshore oil and gas discoveries, while the most promising
areas would be divided between Kazakstan and Azerbaijan. These two countries,
not surprisingly, held out for defining the Caspian as a sea, and negotiations
dragged on until 12 November 1996. Agreement was then reached for each country
to have territorial waters extending 45 miles (75 km) from its coast, and
for resources outside those limits to be developed jointly. However, this
agreement, itself a compromise (Iran proposed 10-mile territorial waters,
Russia 20, Turkmenistan 60 and Kazakhstan 80 miles), has not been signed
by Azerbaijan, which wanted the entire Caspian divided into national sectors.
On the next day Russia, Iran and Turkmenistan signed an agreement on joint
development of areas beyond the 45-mile limit, and invited Kazakstan and
Azerbaijan to join it.
The Central Asian leaders regularly make statements about the continuing
importance of Russia to the region, but their countries' trade patterns show
determination to reduce their dependence on it. However, their opportunities
to do so are limited by several factors. Their pre-independence economies
were more tied in to the Soviet economy than was Russia's, and Soviet planning
has left them very narrowly based, with only a small range of exportable
products. The largest alternative markets for their exports are the Indian
subcontinent and China. But they are separated from the subcontinent by poor
roads, a lack of railways, an unstable Afghanistan, and difficult terrain.
Communication with China is easier, because of better roads and the railway
through Xinjiang which connects with the Central Asian system at the Sino-Kazak
border. But transport costs are high, because the change of gauge at the
border between Chinese standard gauge of 1435mm and Soviet of 1524mm necessitates
either complete changes of wheelsets or transhipment of cargoes, and because
China's main population centres are at the opposite end of the country; in
addition, the subcontinent countries and China are all low-wage economies,
so that Central Asia's low wages confer no comparative advantage. This may
change, because even by 1994 China's per capita GNP was estimated by the
World Bank to be above Tajikistan's in absolute terms and above those of
Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in Purchasing Power Parity terms.
However, rises in per capita GNP do not necessarily translate at once (or
at all) into higher wages, and with China's modernisation vastly more advanced
than the Central Asians', Chinese productivity is likely to remain superior
to average Central Asian levels for a long time to come, even if Chinese
wages rise compared to those of Central Asia.
In the longer term the rapid development of China also poses a threat to
Russian influence. For some time to come China is likely not only to continue
to seek foreign investment, but to invest the wealth generated by growth
into its own industries and infrastructure, rather than outside the country.
But the history of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore tends
to suggest that a long period of rapid economic growth such as China is currently
experiencing eventually leads to establishment of subsidiaries and joint
ventures abroad. In Central Asia this process is already apparent in, for
example, establishment by the South Korean Daewoo corporation of two vehicle
assembly plants in Uzbekistan
(where there are 200,000 Koreans, as a result of mass deportations from Soviet
Far East frontier areas in 1937-38), or the recent contracts of $138 million
for Mitsui and NEC to modernise Kazakstan's telephone system,
and $580 million for Itochu, JGC & Nissho Iwai to build a polypropylene
plant in Turkmenistan.*46
It may not be too fanciful to see in the next decade Chinese involvement
in joint ventures of comparable scale. By 1994, within three years of Kazakstan's
becoming independent, China had already become its second largest trading
partner, exchanges of visits of leaders between China and Central Asia are
frequent, and Nazarbaev in particular has regularly placated China by denouncing
separatism "of any kind"*47
(in deference to the estimated 200,000 Uighurs in Kazakstan he is never
more specific, but his statements are readily understood to relate to Uighur
separatism in the adjacent Chinese province of Xinjiang). When President
Jiang Zemin visited Almaty in July 1996, resident Uighurs were prevented
from holding a planned protest march; and discussions between him and Nazarbaev
in February 1997 were specifically reported to have included possible Chinese
involvement in exploiting Kazakstan's hydrocarbon (coal, gas and oil) resources.
Though no decisions were mentioned at the time, an agreement was signed by
Li Peng and Nazarbaev in late September 1997. Under it a pipeline will be
built to carry Kazakstan oil to China, and China will also participate in
development of two of Kazakstan's oilfields. China's total investment was
not specified, but the scope of the undertakings suggests it will be larger
than the $7.8 million invested by the international consortium developing
Azerbaijan's oil resources.*48
Uighur separatism long predates Central Asian independence, but has undoubtedly
been stimulated by it. Among the several reasons for unrest is that average
incomes in Xinjiang are only about half the all-China average. The disparities
between China's flourishing coastal and southern provinces and lagging interior
provinces have long been a cause of domestic dissatisfaction, and to the
extent that China's leadership attempts to deal with it, establishment in
interior provinces bordering the former USSR of consumer goods producers
to supply its Central Asian and Far Eastern markets would appear to offer
considerable advantages. However, in population terms the Far Eastern market
is only about one-tenth that of Central Asia; even allowing for higher per
capita purchasing power it is only about one-fifth of Central Asia's. It
is predominantly Russian, intensely suspicious of Chinese traders, of the
quality of Chinese goods, and of presumed Chinese ambitions to resettle and
ultimately re-acquire territory taken by Russia in the nineteenth century.
The Central Asian situation is entirely different. The territory there taken
over by Russia in the 1860s is far smaller than that taken in the Far East,
is adjacent to a minority area remote from the Han heartland, and is now
part not of a powerful Russian Empire or Soviet Union, but of Kazakstan,
which poses no threat to China. The possibility of an attempted Soviet takeover
of Xinjiang, indicated by Stalin's support of rebellions there in the 1930s
and 1940s was triply buried, by the Communist victory in China, the death
of Stalin, and finally the demise of the Soviet Union. Uighur separatism
receives no support from the Central Asian leaders, and at least by Kazakstan
and Turkmenistan greater Chinese involvement in industrial development is
already being actively solicited. As China's economic expansion continues
an inevitable search for new markets is likely to lead it to follow the example
of its predecessors in industrialisation. Initially this would probably take
the form of joint ventures between Central Asian enterprises and Xinjiang-based
subsidiaries of Chinese "heartland" firms, exchanging machinery, consumer
goods and food products for Turkmen gas and Kazak oil, gas and coal. The
Sino-Kazakstan agreement of September 1997 mentioned above indicates that
this process has already started. But even without Chinese involvement, Russia's
economic dominance of Central Asia has already been eroded enough for its
continued political dominance to be in question. Russia is in no position
to lift the Central Asian states out of the economic crisis caused by collapse
of the Union and cessation of the subsidies it formerly provided to their
economies, and their leaders have mixed feelings about its continued domination,
punctuating persistent efforts to diversify their economic and political
relationships with periodic statements about the importance of the Russian
connection. The priority Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in particular are attaching
to development of their gold deposits, for example, is mainly because gold
is valuable enough to be flown out for sale, whereas their other exports
largely depend for transit on Russian goodwill.
That Russian goodwill is not always forthcoming has been illustrated on several
occasions. In the early post-independence years unrealistically low Soviet-era
domestic prices for fuel remained in force. Russia paid $10 per thousand
cubic metres for Turkmenistan's principal export, natural gas, which, when
piped via Russia and Ukraine to Western Europe, sold for $72. When Turkmenistan
raised its price to $28 Russia and Ukraine promptly fell into debt, and in
1993 Russia ceased to buy Turkmen gas for export, replacing it with gas from
its own West Siberian fields. The only customers then left to Turkmenistan
were CIS countries, paying only 60% of world prices
and often too short of cash to pay even at that figure.
Gas production in Turkmenistan promptly fell from 90 billion cubic metres
a year in 1990 to 35.2 billion in 1996.
Niyazov places hopes for Turkmenistan's future on resumption of gas deliveries
to Europe via the Russian pipeline and a new line to be built through Iran
to a Turkish port, and on new pipelines to deliver gas to northern Iran and
Pakistan. The pipeline to Iran is 200 kilometres long, and will cost about
$190 million. Construction began in October 1996.
The Pakistan project is estimated to cost $2 billion. A preliminary agreement
was signed in August 1996; as with the consortium developing Kazakstan's
Tengiz oilfield, Russia's part is minor. The US Unocal and Saudi Delta companies
hold an 85% share between them, Russian Gazprom 10%, and a Russo-Turkmen
joint venture Turkmenrosgaz the remaining 5%. However, the feasibility of
this project depends upon an end to fighting in Afghanistan, through which
it must pass.
The future of the planned alternative route to Europe is even less certain.
lt is estimated to cost $9 billion, and because of its routing through Iran
US companies can currently participate neither in finance nor in construction,
because of the US embargo on dealings with Iran, while other G7 countries
are likely to adopt a wait-and-see position, given on the one hand the German
court verdict that the Iranian government ordered the killing of four dissidents
in Berlin in 1992, and on the other the recent election of a new Iranian
President with a reputation as a moderate liberal. Even if construction starts
this year, it will not be earning revenue before the turn of the century,
and given the need to trans-ship the gas into tankers at a Turkish port,
would not necessarily be able to compete profitably with existing Russian
pipelines in deliveries to the most lucrative market, Western Europe. Niyazov's
most grandiose project is a gas pipeline through Afghanistan and China to
the Korean Peninsula and Japan.*53
Given the length of the line, the difficult terrain to be traversed, and
the alternative supplies available to North-East Asia from nearer gas fields
in Siberia and Sakhalin, this is probably best classified for the present
as a pipe dream.
Another important reason for Russia to maintain a presence in Central Asia
is the traffic in drugs. The Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan alone
are now estimated as growing about 40% of the world's opium supply, and though
most of it is still processed and exported via the tribal border areas of
Pakistan, the porosity of Tajikistan's frontiers engendered by civil war,
and the ease with which Customs controllers and Border Guards
(wretchedly paid when paid at all) can be bribed, is making a northern route
via Tajikistan and Russia to Western Europe increasingly attractive to smugglers.
Apart from the dangers an unimpeded Russian mafia-controlled trade in narcotics
can pose to Russia itself, not to be seen combating the drug traffic would
harm Russia's relations with the Western countries which are its main destinations.
Weapons smuggling is another reason for Russia to maintain tight control
over external borders in Central Asia, particularly those with Afghanistan.
Apart from those carried into Tajikistan by militants of the United Tajik
Opposition for their own use or for equipping UTO members within the country,
the abundance of weapons in Afghanistan makes it an obvious potential source
of cheap armaments for militant movements or gangster groups. However, weapons
are easier to detect than drugs, and weight for weight much less lucrative
to smuggle; so far, at least, they are not a problem of severity comparable
The Russian military is particularly sensitive to situations along its borders
for two reasons, one physical, the other psychological. Physically, despite
the ability of modern weaponry to destroy a country without actually invading
it, Soviet military thinking from the mid-1960s to the end of the Union was
dominated by the idea that in a future global war the superpowers, recognising
the futility of mutual suicide, would not use nuclear weapons against each
other's main centres. The war would be fought with conventional forces and
tactical nuclear weapons around the periphery of the Soviet bloc, against
US & European NATO forces over the entire area between the North Cape
of Norway and the Soviet-Turkish border in Transcaucasus, and against US-Japanese-South
Korean forces (in the worst case Chinese forces as well) attacking the Soviet
Far East. By comparison Central Asia appeared the least threatened area,
especially after the collapse of the Baghdad Pact/CENTO, the Communist coup
in Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. But Western, especially
US, aid to the anti-Communist insurgents in Afghanistan, resuscitated nineteenth-century
Tsarist fears of penetration of Central Asia by a hostile great power, prompting
an ill-considered military intervention, undertaken over the military's own
Psychologically, the present leaders of the Russian military mostly aged
between 45 and 55 and therefore first commissioned from the mid-1960s onwards,
were exposed throughout their careers to the dogma that the armed forces'
most important mission would be defence of the periphery against the US-led
alliance system. Bases, airfields, early warning radars, storage depots,
supply and communications systems were located in accordance with that concept
not only in Eastern Europe but in frontier areas of the Union, which everywhere
except in the Far North and Far East are now independent states. The cost
of replacing them with comparable installations on Russian territory is quite
beyond current resources, so agreements have been concluded, with as many
CIS states as were willing, for Russia to retain facilities and station troops,
and to guard the external frontiers with Border Guards wholly or partly supplied
by Russia and totally under Russian command. The Central Asian states have
generally accepted Russian proposals, which they see as on the one hand involving
little derogation of sovereignty (they merely perpetuate, mostly on a much
reduced scale, a presence that has been there since the last century, and
enable them to derive some financial benefit by charging for use of the facilities)
and on the other saving them the costs and other problems of building up
their own armed forces quickly to levels appropriate to self defence. Few
Central Asians became officers in the Soviet Army, and hardly any reached
the senior ranks, so the new Central Asian armies are still officered mainly
Russian Army doctrine holds that four years are needed to train an officer
to command a Company, ten a Battalion, and fifteen a Regiment, so Central
Asian officers now being trained (mostly in Russia) will not be qualified
to replace Russians as Battalion commanders until 2005, and as Regiment commanders
until 2010. This situation makes medium-term dependence on Russia inevitable,
so it is convenient to have Russia shoulder most of the defence burden as
well, and far cheaper for Russia to do so than to build new installations
along its own borders. The arrangement, like the playing of the Islamic threat
card, therefore suits both sides.
The Central Asian states, except for Tajikistan, have declined economically
somewhat less than most other states of the FSU, and Uzbekistan has been
particularly successful in limiting economic decline. However, it cannot
yet be said that their economic decline, generally worse than that of the
1930s "Great Depression" has "bottomed out". In all of them it began from
a much lower economic base than in Russia, and they are having difficulties
in overcoming the problems they inherited from the Soviet era, namely narrowly-based
mainly rural economies, with industrial plants mostly too large and too specialised
to meet their own needs, obsolete equipment in both industry and agriculture,
health education and welfare services and pensions difficult to sustain since
the cessation of the large subsidies they received from the Soviet central
government, and a dependence on Russian goodwill which is not always forthcoming
for transits of imports and exports. They are well-endowed with natural resources,
but these were mostly under-exploited in Soviet times and to exploit them
requires capital investment which neither the Central Asians nor Russia can
provide. Russia retains considerable influence, and the Central Asians' efforts
to reduce their dependence on it are constrained by the paucity of routes
for export and import trade that do not go through Russian territory. In
the short to medium term Russia's influence is challenged by development
possibilities offered by several European countries, the United States, Canada,
Japan and South Korea which Russia cannot match. In the longer term, China,
already an important trading partner for post-independence Central Asia,
has a potential for joint ventures or direct investment which Russia is unlikely
to be able to match, and has already begun to demonstrate that potential
in respect to Kazakstan.
Sh Shoimatulloev, Stanovlenie molodoy sem'i, Tajik Academy of Sciences Publishing
House, series Philosophy and Jurisprudence 3/1992, p. 27.
S N Eisenstadt, Traditional Patrimonialism and Modern Neopatrimonialism,
SAGE Publications, 1973, p. 63.
This point is made by Stephen G Wheatcroft, "Revisiting the Crisis Zones
of Euro-Asia", Part Two, Russian and Euro-Asian Bulletin, April 1997, Centre
for Russian and Euro-Asian Studies, University of Melbourne, pp. 1-5.
The data are extracted from Table 10 of From Plan to Market: World Development
Report 1996; published for the World Bank by Oxford University Press, 1996,
pp. 206-207. (Hereafter cited as From Plan to Market...)
Ibid, Table 8, pp. 202-203. The unit of energy consumption is one kilogram
of oil equivalent.
Two examples; Soviet machine-picked cotton on the international market was
found to contain too much trash to secure top prices; gold-extraction machinery
left enough gold behind to justify Uzbekistan letting a major contract to
an Australian company to reprocess an enormous tailings dump, and Kyrgyzstan
to entrust the exploitation of its own gold deposits to a Canadian firm.
Abel Aganbegyan, one of Gorbachev's economic advisers, stated publicly that
by the beginning of perestroika 71% of machinery in Soviet industry was obsolete.
CIS Goskomstat data base.
Since the signing of a cease-fire and power-sharing agreement between the
government and the United Tajik Opposition in December 1996 there have been
a number of killings of Russians in Tajikistan. These are denounced by both
sides, and appear to be perpetrated by local "warlords" who benefited from
the disorder of the Civil War.
Per capita GNP at Purchasing Power Parity in 1996 is calculated at $US 789
in Tajikistan, 1788 in Kyrgyzstan, 2318 in Uzbekistan and 2572 in Kazakstan,
versus $4293 in Russia. Wheatcroft, op cit, p. 8.
E g at the peak in mid-1994 non-locals, overwhelmingly Russians, were claimed
to be leaving Tajikistan at the rate of 2,000 a month. RFE/RL Daily Digest
20 June 1994. The Russian Ambassador to Tajikistan claimed that 365,000 of
a Slav population of over 500,000 had left by mid-1994. Stolitsa 37/1994,
p. 18. Of a Russian population of 1.1 million about 300,000 left Kyrgyzstan
in the first two years of independence. Richard B Dobson, "Kyrgyzstan in
a Time of Change", Central Asian Monitor (hereafter CAM) 2/1994, pp. 17-22.
Of about 400,000 ethnic Germans in Kyrgyzstan, 75% have left. P Kubicek,
"Building Social Tolerance: the Case of Kyrgyzstan", CAM 5/1996 pp. 16-19.
Natsional'nyy Sostav Naseleniya SSSR, Moscow, Finansy i Statistika 1989,
Between the 1979 and 1989 censuses the Russian population in Central Asia
increased by 2.2%, while the indigenous ethnicities increased by 20.6%. Rybakovskiy,
L L, Sotsiologicheskie Issledovaniya 9/1995, p. 91.
179,000 arrived, 366,000 left. Ibid.
Roy, O, "The Civil War in Tajikistan: Causes and Implications", Washington,
US Institute of Peace, 1993, p. 16.
Schema for defining regionalism adapted by K Nourzhanov from Wirth, L, "The
Limits of Regionalism", in Jensen, M (Ed) Regionalism in America, University
of Wisconsin Press, 1965, pp. 382-384.
Malashenko, A, "The 1980s: a New Political Start for Islam", in Russian Politics
And Law Vol 31/4, 1993, p. 25.
An article by Abdumannob Polatov listed numerous human rights violations
by Turkmen and Uzbek security forces, including beating, forcible seizure
and extradition of dissidents who are citizens of or resident in or attending
conferences in other CIS countries. CAM 2/1995, pp. 31-36.
ITAR/TASS 23 October 1996.
CAM 1/1996, p. 11.
Interfax 7 January 1997.
CAM 2/1997, p. 16.
The figures are taken from Russian and Euro-Asian Bulletin, CRE-AS, Melbourne
University, May 1997, p. 12.
CAM 1/1997, pp. 1-2.
CAM 2/1997, pp. 8-9 and 38. Despite Akayev's reputation as a liberal, he
had earlier attempted to institute controls over the press, which he accused
of "irresponsible behaviour stirring up social and political conflicts",
and focussed particularly on the Russian-language Svobodnyye Gory parliamentary
newspaper. The attempt was abandoned after a storm of protest from leading
intellectuals and editors. Interfax 15 July 1994. See also Sydykova, Z, Za
Kulisami Demokratii po-Kyrgyzski, Bishkek, "Res Publica", 1997.
See also article by Barnabas Johnson, "The Role of the United States in the
Erosion and Collapse of Constitutional Government in Kazakhstan", CAM 6/1995,
CAM 2/1997, p. 6.
CAM 2/1997, p. 7.
AFP 9 February 1997.
CAM 4/1996, p. 7.
From Plan to Market..., Table 6, pp. 198-199.
Ignatenko, A, in Ermakov & Mikulskiy (Eds) Islam v Rossii i Sredney Azii,
Moscow, Lotos, 1993, p. 171.
Iliasov, F N, "Skol'ko Stoit Nevesta?", Sotsiologicheskie Issledovaniya 6/1991,
Each sample was of about 1200 respondents, numbers of indigenes and Russians
in each sample approximately corresponding to their proportion in the country's
population. Richard B Dobson, "Islam in Central Asia: Results of Four Surveys",
CAM 2/1994, pp. 17-22.
That they are not only addressing foreign investors is shown by a survey
conducted by the US Institute of Peace in Central Asia in 1989. Roughly 90%
of respondents then defined strengthening of social order and discipline
as the most important problem, whereas only 47% of respondents in Uzbekistan
and less than 40% in Kazakstan thought freedom of speech and a free press
important. N Lubin in Colton, T J and Tucker, R C (Eds) Patterns in post-Soviet
leadership, Westview Press, 1995, p. 221.
lnterfax 20 May 1995.
K Petersen in CAM 5/1996, pp. 14-15. In a gesture which may have owed as
much to economics as to politics, the Tashkent statue of Timur was placed
on a pediment originally provided for a statue of General Kaufmann, the first
Russian Governor-General of Turkestan, then used for a statue of Stalin,
replaced after de-Stalinisation by one of Karl Marx.
CAM 2/96, p. 1
Gorbachev in 1987 put it even more strongly "Experience has shown that two
languages should be studied.. one's mother-tongue and Russian", implying
that those whose mother tongue was Russian need learn no other. Gorbachev,
M, Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World, London, Collins,
1987, p. 121.
At one time Russia was charging Kazakstan three times as much per tonne for
West Siberian crude as it was paying for oil it imported from fields in South-West
CAM 6/1996, p. 3.
The PPP figures ($US) were Tajikistan 970, Kyrgyzstan 1730, Uzbekistan 2370,
China 2510, Kazakstan 2810. From Plan to Market..., Table 1, p. 188.
One in Tashkent, the other in Asaka, Andijon oblast, opened 25 March and
19 July 1996 respectively. CAM 4/1996, p. 13.
ITAR/TASS 13 January 1997.
Signed on 18 February 1997. RFE/RL 19 February 1997.
E g during a 3-day visit to Beijing, Kyodo 13 September 1995, and following
widespread Uighur rioting with "several thousand" arrests admitted by Chinese
authorities, Xinhua 19 February 1997.
Guardian Weekly 5 Oct 1997, p. 19.
Delovoy Mir 20 Sep 94, p. 5.
On 4 February 1997 Niyazov announced a doubling of salaries of government
employees and military, to be paid for from fines imposed on Ukraine, Georgia,
Armenia and Azerbaijan for overdue payments for gas delivered in 1994-6.
CAM 2/1997, p. 19.
CAM 2/1997, p. 17.
CAM 2/1997, p. 12.
Delovoy Mir 20 September 1994, p. 5.
Lieutenant-General Tarasenko, commanding Russian Border Guard forces stationed
in Tajikistan, complained in June 1995 that since 1 January there had been
over 1,000 desertions, and that only 2,100 of a required 3,500 conscripts
had reported for duty. A (Tajik) Lieutenant-Colonel Sharipov serving in the
Russian 201 Motor Rifle Division (the core of the CIS peacekeeping force
in Tajikistan) was arrested with eight others in June 1995 for alleged involvement
in the murders of 12 soldiers and use of military aircraft to convey drugs
to Russia. CAM 4/1995, p. 10.
The UN International Narcotics Control Board on 27 February 1995 identified
Central Asia as a major source of cannabis, opium and ephedrine. 390 kilos
of raw opium were seized on the Afghan-Tajik border in August 1995 alone.
Drug-related arrests in Kyrgyzstan rose from 909 in 1990 to 2544 in 1994.
CAM 2/1995, pp. 3-4, and 5/1995, pp. 11-12. A Russian Border Guards officer
told a press conference on 21 November 1995 that so far that year 2 tonnes
of drugs had been seized on the Turkmen-Afghan border, 1800 persons, mostly
Afghans, detained, and there had been 50 armed clashes, mostly with drug
smugglers. Interfax 21 November 1995.
For the military objections, and the reasons they were overruled, see Krasnaya
Zvezda 17 November 1989.
The only detailed figures published relate to 1994, in which year the percentages
of officers in the Central Asian armies who were ethnic Russians were: Kyrgyzstan
70%, Tajikistan 80%, Turkmenistan 85%, Uzbekistan 90-91%, Kazakstan 90-94%.
Lt-Colonel V Mukhin "The Slav Factor in the Muslim CIS States", Moscow, Armiya
10/1994, pp. 20-26.