2004 in Central Asia

by Nathan Hamm on 1/2/2005

RFE/RL’s Daniel Kimmage looks back at the past year in Central Asia (via Jodi).

My super-compressed take on the year is that it wasn’t too good, but I’m not entirely pessimistic.

On the one hand, everyone started copying Kazakhstan’s triangulation foreign policy. For Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan especially, that has meant a turning away from the United States. On the other hand, looking for balance is better than running full-tilt into the arms of Russia, and Uzbekistan especially has been critical of Russia trying to exercise influence over its neighbors.

The Rose and Orange Revolutions have seriously spooked Central Asian governments, even prompting Kyrgyzstan to react harshly. Kazakhstan’s president is out to economically starve his opponents, but his willingness to rig recent elections has caused political blowback. The nervousness about opposition has extended to pressure on NGOs, including the closure of Internews and Soros in Uzbekistan. Whether or not this will ease up anytime soon is anyone’s guess.

Where Kimmage sees reason for concern in the Kokand riots, I see reason for optimism. The rioting certainly is a sign of growing tension in Uzbek society and how that tension gets expressed could certainly end up resulting in more harm than good. On the other hand though, the rioting may signal that Uzbeks are increasingly willing to force some level of responsiveness from their government.

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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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