Posts tagged Tajikistan

Slavery in the 21st Century in KZ (Part II)

The following is a continuation of what I posted last week from Vox Populi.  Read on…

16. “Commercial slavery is a very profitable business for traffickers and pimps. Human slaves cost anywhere between 10,000 and 300,000 tenge on the black market and pimps make 20,000 tenge and higher a day. A family business associated with trafficking is the most fail-safe option. There have been instances where the wife is the pimp, the husband is the driver and nephews work as overseers or guard the girls. Girls are usually recruited from the streets, lured and deceived with offers of work as waitresses or nannies and then are forced into the car and brought to the den.”

17. “Sometimes commercial sex workers help us on a volunteer basis. They are registered in the center as volunteers. We help them to recover documents and children who were born outside of hospitals and the girls help us by telling us where girls are being kept, especially minors. We participated in raids together with the police. When the police enter the brothels, the pimps hide the girls and every corner of the apartment has to be searched.”

18. Victims of trafficking often try to escape, but they are caught and severely punished. Some girls try to commit suicide.

19. Written on a piece of paper belonging to one of the girls at the shelter: “It’s difficult for me to remember those days when we were together, you know that I want to return! Why did I ever come to Astana. Why did I leave home? Lord, please return everything back to my parents, my beloved ones!”

20. Saule (not real name) left home at 16 because of constant arguments, fights and alcoholic parents.

I came to Astana together with my friend. This one woman came up to us and offered us work. At first we didn’t understand what kind of work it was. When we got to the apartment, she told us what we’d be doing and offered us to stay the night and we could answer the next day. The next day we said that we weren’t interested and she answered us ‘I rented an apartment for you, fed you, and now you have to work off your debt.’ Then they just wouldn’t let us leave. One girl costs 5000 tenge/hour and one girl could serve anywhere from 5 to 20 clients a day. They beat us often. Once we had worked all night until morning but the clients wanted to extend their time until lunch. We refused. Then the pimps came, took us out into the Steppe, and beat us. Our pimp was a young 23-year old girl who herself had been a prostitute and our handler was an 18-year old boy.

21. 17-year old Lena has a psychologically-developed mind corresponding to that of a 10-year old child and was impregnated by a client to whom she became attached when she was a slave. She considered him her favorite person. Girls with mental illnesses sometimes only need just a hint of affection or some trinket and they become attached to him and believe him unconditionally.

“When I lived in a dormitory for former orphans, a car came by and took two of our girls. The girls ran away. When I came out of the dorm once, I met a woman named Tanya who offered me to work in her café. I went to the location and Tanya said that I’ll be a prostitute. Girls who refused were severely beaten and even set one on fire.

22. Vera is mentally retarded, finished only one grade and can’t read or write. She can’t explain anything by herself. According to Anna Ryl, a man helped her by telling the police. They beat her in the brothel. Before that, Vera lived with alcoholic parents who sold her into slavery. When she first came to the center, she couldn’t put two words together.

“I lived poorly. They drank at home. Mom beat me on the legs, wouldn’t let me walk around, but I wanted to go outside. I have a stepdad and a father. I love my real dad more and wanted to live with him.”

23. 17-year Saltanat left home because of numerous fights. Together with her friend, she left for Astana to find work, where she fell into the hands of traffickers.

“There were four other girls in the apartment. We got up at 4pm, cleaned the apartment and by 7, the handlers brought customers. Sometimes we worked all night till 9am. My family doesn’t know anything. I just want to forget everything and return to my hometown.”

24. Veleriya is raising a year-old daughter.

“My mother drank a lot and to her I was just an unwanted child. I was ten when she told me how she tried to get rid of me when she was pregnant and how she would love to get rid of me now. After my grandmother’s death, she drank the house away and I was given to an orphanage. When I left there, my mother told me to come live with her so that, as it turned out, she could sell me to some Uzbeks. When she disappeared, I was only 15. During the day, I tended sheep for my owners, but at night…”

25. “I managed to escape. Without documents or any things, I ended up on the streets. A lot of bad things followed, but now I’m here. At first I had the desire to find my mom, but now I don’t want to see her. The most important thing is my daughter, whom I give all the love that I never received from my mother.”

26. In addition to commercial slavery, the Komek Center all works with victims of labor slavery.

“The International Organization for Migration helps us with migrants. With their help, we are able to communicate with social workers in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other countries so that they might conduct investigations connected with their citizens. Last year, we had 11 men of Uzbek nationality, of whom 4 were minors. Their passports were taken at work and held. On the phone, they trusted us and turned to us for help. As a result, together with the migration police, we helped the migrants to prepare documents and return home. As for the employers who violated Kazakhstani law, administrative actions were levied against them.”

27. “Two years ago, three people came to us who had been held anywhere from 4 to 15 years at the wintering grounds of Karakuduk in the Shetskiy District of Karaganda Region. Ukrainian citizen Tatyana Tverdokhebova was a labor slave victim from 1995-2009, Vladimir Solomatin from Temirtau was in slavery from 2005-2009 and Oktyabr Lee from Karaganda was held from 1995-2009. Oktyabr was the only one who stayed in the center. He has had poor hearing since childhood. After his release, due to inhumane conditions and poor food, he had to undergo four operations.

“I worked on this farm since 1986,” tells Oktyabr. “After the Soviet Union collapsed, there wasn’t anywhere to go and farmer Tursunbek Akzhunusov asked me to help him on the farm and I agreed. At first I was treated well, ate together with the owners, they weren’t rude and didn’t hit. He promised a lot of money, but never paid. The work was hard – I had to tend to almost 900 sheep and take care of each animal and clean the barn. When I started getting older, they understood that they I didn’t have much good to me and started to treat me like an animal. Sometimes Tursunbek would hire workers and pay them 20,000 tenge but all that was left for us were beatings and scraps. Tatyana showed up on the farm in 1995. She was a good worker on the farm, but the owners didn’t spare her and beat her while Tursunbek’s son was raunchy with her, raped her and did bad things to her. She begged to go home but they only answered with beatings and cut rations.

28. “In 2005 came the last of us, Volodya. Not a very tall man but a very healthy man. He tried to escape but was caught and was beaten like a dog, tied to a horse and dragged around in circles. The shepherd had seven sons and they all beat Volodya. I told them, ‘God will punish you for doing that, you can’t treat people like that…’ but they kept beating him while the 60-year old farmer, seeing that Volodya was completely battered, laughed, saying, ‘What happened, did you fall hard?” The beatings left him disabled for life.

29. “We were literally fed scraps from the master’s table: moldy rolls, stale bread soaked in water, spoiled soup. In court they told us we could have left by train! But where are you going to run away to? Climb up any hill and all you can see is Steppe. All around were Tursunbek’s people – half the village were his relatives. Three of his relatives worked in the local government who covered for the slaveholders. And we weren’t the only ones in this predicament – over at the neighboring farm they also held workers. Their conditions were even worse, they were fed animal fodder. There was a woman there who toiled away like Tatyana. The woman was impregnated by the master and they started beating her, hitting her in the stomach, so that she’d have a miscarriage, disfigured her face…

30. “One time, Tatyana managed to pass a note to one of the workers hired by the master. The person who got this note went to Karaganda and told his sister everything. Together with her brother, they returned to the village and took Tatyana. But at the nearest station, the shepherd’s son Yerzhan and his friends caught up with the escapees, forced Tatyana out of the car and beat her liberators. When the latter returned to the city, the local police pulled them over and told them not to stick their nose in other people’s business. Having returned to the city, they turned to the Department of Internal Affairs and a SWAT team came and for us and took me and Tatyana away but the master hid Volodya for another two months in the barracks. What a court case was launched against the farmers, the owner has to clean up Volodya, fatten him up, nurse him back to health. Before the trial, the Akzhunusovs tried to buy me off and promised that if I signed a statement, they would pay me 300,000 tenge. To which I answered that for 15 years they owe me no less than 3 million tenge. They refused to pay. The older Akzhunusov openly announced that ‘he would cut ten heads off and can buy anyone that he wants, including the courts.”

“In organizing a court session to take place at the village,” says Anna, “the courts did not exercise concern for the safety of the victims. Having seen the farm, where every room, barn, and handle from a shovel reminded the victims of how they were jeered at, they literally went into shock. Experiencing it all again brought them back to a state of fear and led to them not being able to objectively answer the judge’s questions. Of the three, only Tatyana was considered a victim in the criminal case according to article 126 (illegal deprivation of freedom). Judge Tokabekova sentenced Tursumbek Akzhunisov to a 3 year suspended sentence and his son Yerzhan to a 2 year suspended sentence. We learned that the judge lives in the same town as the accused and this causes difficulties in getting a fair verdict. But a “suspended” punished for 15 years of slavery it completely absurd. After the trial, we turned to the city court of appeals, but the outcome was similar to the first. Most interestingly, the prosecutor, speaking in court, was on the side of the guilty, saying that the victims of slavery wanted to extort money and the slave owners were decent people…

Most recently, the Komek Shelter received three victims of trafficking: a 35-year old woman from Tajikistan who is a victim of labor slavery and two minors, a 13 and 14-year old. The children were abducted and exploited in commercial slavery.

31.For those who want to help the center or consult with experts, here is their address: 1 Pushkin, Astana, Kazakhstan. Email: korgau_astana@mail.ru. State short number: 1409

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Human Trafficking (Part IV)

I’m glad I was an active member of the International Women’s Club in Astana as well as in Almaty because this is where it all started for me…my interest in human trafficking.  It IS an international problem.  What is completely vexing and baffling to us as expats in Kazakhstan is that so few Kazakh people see it as a problem in their own country. Maybe if they DO know, they don’t want to admit that human trafficking is a problem. Or maybe those who are victims are powerless to say anything that is why we as expats need to keep this as a front burner issue by blogging about it or writing e-mails home to people in our respective countries.

The following is an e-mail that was sent by a British person after a visit to one of the 20 shelters which are situated throughout Kazakhstan. Thankfully, some things ARE being done to take care of this problem.  However, MORE is needed to be done to make Kazakhs in the countryside aware of human trafficking.  If you don’t read on, please at least go to this website Not for Sale – http://www.notforsalecampaign.org/ Also, check out http://www.free2work.org/companies  But keep informed about what people are doing “on the ground” of Kazakhstan to help ease the burden, please read on…

“We visited a shelter for the victims of trafficking recently to see their work ‘in situ.’  It is a rented house in the countryside. Frankly, we probably could not find it again if we tried to return!  They are working on plans to buy and equip their own place, but, for the moment, will continue to pay rent.  The most notable thing about the outside is the number of ducklings they are currently feeding.

The house itself seems quite big and there are two main bedrooms that we saw with five beds in each. There was also a male resident, who we did not meet but who has a separate entrance.  There are currently eight residents though this changes regularly and, on our visit, they came from various places (Ukraine, Uzbekhistan, Tajikstan, but also Kazakhs)  The oldest was 46 (Ukrainian rescued from farm servitude) and the youngest 20 (a Kazakh who had been sexual trafficked).

On this occasion, in contrast to all I had read or been told, the majority were victims of sexual rather than labour trafficking, but this varies all the time, we were told the majority of the funding comes through the Ministry of Justice, who finance the house, utilities and salaries of those involved (currently five people)  They also fund the reception centre in the centre of the city where all those newly rescued are first taken, usually by the police though perhaps in response to tip-offs.

Because of the possibility of legal proceedings, as threats are regularly made, the location of the centre is not divulged  Currently, there is an on-going legal process involving one of the young women in which she will be a witness as well the ‘client’ who reported her being sexually trafficked!  Yes, I was surprised too, but soliciting is not a crime in Kazakhstan though prostitution is!   However, because of the difficulty of actually ‘proving’ trafficking the usual charge is kidnapping thus the need for the victim to be protected.

So, what happens when someone is rescued?  They will stay at the shelter for therapy by trying to come to terms with and work through their trauma by use of both one-to-one and group therapy  They are also encouraged to work out and/or externalize their anger through art (one of the girls seemed a very good draughtsperson) or use of models with the faces of their exploiter(s)  As a rough guide, people stay for about half the time of their period of servitude though this, of  course, varies according to the individual or their circumstances.

What happens when they have to leave the shelter at the end of their therapy?  This also varies according to circumstances, as you might expect!  Those who are non-Kazakh are eventually repatriated (imagine the bureaucracy!) with local contacts for the IOM (e.g. in Bishkek) which they are encouraged to use.  However, this is rather more problematic in Kazakhstan as the family may have been involved with the original trafficking or the victim may not (for reasons I leave you to imagine!)   In this case, (there is currently one young woman in the shelter in this situation), then alternative arrangements are made to assist re-settlement and re-integration into society.

So what can we do to help?  Well, continue to donate clothes as their budget does not cover this type of expenditure, and I will be sending another email at the end of the month as you all pack & de-clutter ready for the new season!  Btw what is the ‘in’ colour the autumn season? However, for some of you, that is a problem (you dress in a timeless fashion?). Also, they have requested any art materials: flipchart type paper as well as paints both oil- & water-based  I will get some costing done and contact you again shortly if you would like to donate.”

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“Collaborative Force Against Human Trafficking” (Part II)

A second Kazakh student of mine wrote this problem/solution essay concerning human trafficking in Central Asia. My students know that I never want to see them write that the government is going to solve this problem or any other problems. (In the case of the Soviet Union, they created more problems than they solved.) I would have to agree that if ALL the people are aware enough and make a collaborative effort as the Kazakh government did to close down the crime at Polygon-Semipalatinsk, then positive changes can be made for the emotional and spiritual health of the nation of Kazakhstan.  Her title was the above:

Central Asian countries, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, faced great social and economic crisis. After getting their independence, poor and new established governments of separate countries could not provide the citizens with jobs, financial support and, even, food. Seeking for better life poor people became victims of organized crime. And this picture maintains without any changes into better conditions till present days. Even though the problem of international human trafficking still remains actual and unsolved, opening more human protecting and supporting institutions and strengthening the law enforcement can make this concern less dramatic.

Though about twenty years have passed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the social and economic issues in Central Asian countries still remain dramatic. The high level of unemployment, poor law enforcement in these countries have now become a global concern. Though the democratic government always highlights the freedom and equality of all human beings, more and more people are becoming the victims of slavery and involuntary servitude. And it is difficult to confess that our Fatherland, Kazakhstan, this year the Head of OSCE and the leading country in Central Asia, is the centre of organized crime and international trafficking.

If we look at our constitution[Kazakhstan], the second part is devoted to Man and Citizen, and in the seventeenth entry of this part is said that 1) a man’s rights must remain untouched, and 2) no one is allowed to abuse, to enslave, to violate another man. But somehow these words carry no importance for some people who are involved in cheap labour market. Recent events show that there is a complete absence of ruling in Kyrgyzstan and its people have been left far away from globalization. The prove for that is the increasing number of their men and women becoming victims of human trafficking. We also can’t say that life in other Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan is better. According to some media information, two or three years ago Kazakhstan was in the first place on the list of countries that use cheap labour forces of immigrants.

Even though the problem of international human trafficking still remains actual and unsolved, opening protective and supportive institutions can make the conditions better. Most people is ill – informed about human trafficking, because very little is written in books and pages of media sources, and very little is said on TV, schools and other social institutions. If we open such protective shelters, it may function actively in providing people with “three P’s”: prosecution, protection, and prevention. And the most dramatic thing is that most people, especially women who were the victims of slavery and sexual exploitation and could rescue, do not share with their problems because of, maybe, their mentality or they are still afraid of that. But they must be persuaded to say about what they have experienced more and more in order to make other people be aware of that. They must warn them.

One more solution that can make this concern less dramatic is strengthening the law enforcement, because Central Asian countries are famous for the high level of corruption. We know that international human trafficking belongs to organized crime. It means that representatives of government, custom affairs may be or are involved in international human trafficking, because the word “traffic” means “transport” and this crime would never happen without supporters in the field of international transportation. And also it means that corruption absolutely takes place in this process. That’s why people and mass media sources should warn again and again the representatives of policy and law.

Summing up, I should say that if there is a problem, there is always a way out. It is just a question of time and effort that people put on it. Consequently, if we start to act actively, open supporting shelters and collaborate with the government, it will help to fight against international organized crime, and make less concern for the people all over the world.

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Met Author of “Two Kyrgyz Women” at Book Club

Yesterday was a busy day for me, but rewarding.  First, at work, there was a birthday party for a 23-year-old male, and we all trundled down to the conference room to help celebrate with three cakes and other food. Then I went to the Book Club meeting, then I took another taxi to meet my ten students at the American Embassy Resource Center.  The highlight of the day for me was to meet Marinka, with about 10 other international women. She is the author of the book “Two Kyrgyz Women.” However, the highlight for my students was to see the wealth of books (about 800 volumes) and magazines at the Resource Center.

*Much misery is all around us that more westerners should be awakened to if only they cared about their fellow human beings!!!

I’ve looked back a week ago to when I blogged about the eloquence of Marinka’s  writing. She was just as articulate and passionate in speaking on this topic of human trafficking yesterday.  She started talking about internal trafficking that was inside of Kazakhstan.  Many of the saunas that are in the suburbs of Astana really serve as brothels.  Because of the huge gap between the famously wealthy people in Almaty and Astana and everyone outside in the villages or what is referred to as “regions,” Kazakh girls are lied to, thinking they are going to the big city to make some money.  Instead, they are fooled into being victims of sexual exploitation.  Some girls may be at bars where something is dropped into their drinks and they wake up to find themselves in this terrible, compromised situation.

Not only is there sex trafficking happening in epidemic proportions in Central Asia but there is labor exploitation as well.  Many men from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan who can’t find a job in their own country will try to find work in Kazakhstan only to find they are virtual slaves working long hours for very low pay — like $50 a month.  Some are illegal immigrants. Without papers, they are defenseless against the system but they are so desperate to send home money to their families.

Marinka had interviewed one Kyrgyz man who had been virtually a slave in Russia for 3 years.  He was working at a construction site and was with other illegal immigrants who were housed in a barn with animals. These men were barely fed and when he finally returned home to his wife and children, he looked 20 years older.  So, the men we see in busses who are carted around the city from one construction site to another don’t look happy.  One obvious reason would be especially when it starts getting very cold in Astana, they are in harm’s way with not only being malnourished but freezing in the cruel winters of the north.  They are closely guarded property, as if on a chain gang, because whoever hires them extracts much labor without having to pay what they are worth.

Because Central Asian countries are shame-based societies, whether those trafficked people are men or women, once they DO gain freedom and return to their families, they will rarely speak up what tragic ordeals they went through.  Those are the fortunate few who do re-enter their old world of poverty.  For many, that is what got them involved in unwittingly becoming slaves in the first place.  Sadly, deep prejudice goes against those girls who have been sexually exploited so they especially will never say anything about being in the sex industry. A self-perpetuating problem because of the silence.

(to be continued)

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UNICEF and Kazakhstan’s Youth

UNICEF and Kazakhstan’s youth:  This morning I heard an amazing speaker at the Astana Intl. Women’s club meeting which meets monthly at the Radisson hotel.  She emphatically stated that she LOVES the organization of UNICEF, I think her name was Hannah. She related an account of where she was in some African country where she witnessed a reuniting of a young girl with her mother after civil war that tore many families apart. She first showed a film about all the different things that UNICEF does for the sake of children around the world.  Immunizations, water, nutrition, education, other health issues, orphanages, rights of children, juvenile delinquency…she touched on many topics.  I wish I had taken notes because she also had a lot of statistics that she quoted related to Kazakhstan in particular.

Of course, as a teacher, what I was most interested in what she said about Kazakhstan’s young people relating to education.  She claimed that after Russia, Kazakhstan has the highest suicide rate.  She didn’t elaborate whether that was in the rural areas of this country or among the privileged.  Those students I am used to seeing are in westernized schools in Almaty and Astana.  The young people I work with know English, have traveled, come from good families and have hope.  Hannah said after Russia and Kazakhstan there is a big drop in the statistics and again I was curious what other countries she was referring to, did that mean C.I.S. countries only or in the whole world?  Certainly there is much poverty in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kygyzstan, etc.  Why would Russia and Kazakhstan be so ranked with high suicide rates among the youth?

Once back at work, I talked to a young woman who majors in physics at a local university in Astana.  I asked her what she knew about suicide among youth in Kazakhstan.  She said she had heard of an instance recently where a young girl committed suicide when she found out the results of her qualifying exam to get into university did not make the grade.  You hear of these instances happening perhaps in China where the competition is very tight and there are few vacancies for letting students into their university system.  Here in Kazakhstan, I don’t know.  I need to explore that issue about depression, societal stresses and suicide of the Kazakh youth.  I know in the school system there is much pressure for them to succeed in learning in three languages (Kazakh, Russian and English).

The UNICEF speaker also went on to explain that immunizations for polio and also for tuberculosis need to be re-instated.  There has been an outbreak (I think in the Chymkent area?) of that where it was thought to have been eradicated since 1988.  Also, people who might have contracted HIV/AIDS are too ashamed to seek help.  One woman who had been infected by her husband would not take the medication that could have saved her life. She did not want to be stigmatized with having AIDS.  To her, that was worse than death, if her family learned of her AIDS, she would have been considered a social outcast.

The most shocking was about how there is still the hold-over of Soviet thinking among the doctors in Kazakhstan.  Their one and only definition of a live birth is if the baby is breathing air on its own. However, according to international standards of what is considered “live births,” set up by the organization WHO, there are 14-16 different ways to see if a baby, once born, is alive by checking palpitation of heart or other vital signs.  All those signs are ignored due to the old Soviet training of doctors that still exists in hospitals.  When I talked to a foreign doctor who is western trained, she said that perhaps if those babies who are birthed with complications, they might have defects or disabilities that families would not be able to take care of due to the expense.

One other thing mentioned was that many children who end up in orphanages in Kazakhstan are not actually orphans (defined by a child without father or mother) but they are castoff children and do indeed have a parent still living.  Our speaker said this concept of children being taken over by the government is another carry-over from the Soviet period where this was actually encouraged so as to train up the children according to the State-controlled regimen.  Hannah ended with a answer to a question among the group of about 40 women that the Kazakhs need to return to their own tradition of taking care of their OWN family and not giving up children to orphanages because many times if they have been institutionalized, they are without good job skills to enter the work force at age 18 when they are turned out to fend for themselves.

One foreign woman said that she and other expats had worked on a charity to improve the conditions of the orphanages because the toilets and showers were deplorable.  Our speaker said that this was a very delicate issue because if there is not better social networking to adopt these children into Kazakh families and have that working, it only encourages more people to “throw away” these young children into the orphanages that might have better conditions than what they are currently living in. She said it was more important for children, even living in poverty, to grow up in their own families or be adopted by relatives (just like what used to be done before the Soviet period) than to institutionalize children in orphanages.  She said it was important for charities to work and improve the conditions of the places where children currently are kept but better to NOT have so many “social orphans” in Kazakhstan.  If orphanages look better than a home in poverty, more and more children would be dumped.

Our speaker representing UNICEF had to rush off to another engagement so I didn’t have a chance to ask her my main question about depression and suicide among Kazakh youth.  She obviously has strong emotions about what she does for a living, obviously she LOVES children.

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Kyrgyzstan – Blogs may have it RIGHT!!!

Sorry, I still can’t let this news story about Kyrgyzstan of a week ago go.  I have too many Russian comments (hacker-wanna-bes) who get on MY blog and say stupid things in Russian.  I delete ALL their comments!!!  Apparently whatever little information I know and try to disseminate in English gets under their skin. I do a lot of scanning of the other blogs on WordPress and I have found that some other bloggers may have it right. So, whatever I quoted yesterday from a Russian writer out of Washington D.C. may be somewhat contrary to this latest perspective.  Things are swirling in the geo-political sphere and it definitely impacts us here in Kazakhstan, albeit in Astana, the northern capital of Kazakhstan!!!  We are that much closer to Russia and thus my concern. The following is what “Seeker401” wrote:

“This past week saw another key success in Russia’s resurgence in former Soviet territory when pro-Russian forces took control of Kyrgyzstan.

The Kyrgyz revolution was quick and intense. Within 24 hours, protests that had been simmering for months spun into countrywide riots as the president fled and a replacement government took control. The manner in which every piece necessary to exchange one government for another fell into place in such a short period discredits arguments that this was a spontaneous uprising of the people in response to unsatisfactory economic conditions. Instead, this revolution appears prearranged.

Opposition forces in Kyrgyzstan have long held protests, especially since the Tulip Revolution in 2005 that brought recently ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to power. But various opposition groupings never were capable of pulling off such a full revolution — until Russia became involved.

In the weeks before the revolution, select Kyrgyz opposition members visited MOSCOW to meet with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. STRATFOR sources in Kyrgyzstan reported the pervasive, noticeable presence of Russia’s Federal Security Service on the ground during the crisis, and MOSCOW readied 150 elite Russian paratroopers the day after the revolution to fly into Russian bases in Kyrgyzstan. As the dust began to settle, Russia endorsed the still-coalescing government.

There are quite a few reasons why Russia would target a country nearly 600 miles from its borders (and nearly 1,900 miles from capital to capital), though Kyrgyzstan itself is not much of a prize. The country has no economy or strategic resources to speak of and is highly dependent on all its neighbors for foodstuffs and energy. But it does have a valuable geographic location.

Central Asia largely comprises a massive steppe of more than a million square miles, making the region easy to invade. The one major geographic feature other than the steppe are the Tien Shan mountains, a range that divides Central Asia from South Asia and China. Nestled within these mountains is the Fergana Valley, home to most of Central Asia’s population due to its arable land and the protection afforded by the mountains. The Fergana Valley is the core of Central Asia.

To prevent this core from consolidating into the power center of the region, the Soviets sliced up the Fergana Valley between three countries. Uzbekistan holds the valley floor, Tajikistan the entrance to the valley and Kyrgyzstan the highlands surrounding the valley. Kyrgyzstan lacks the economically valuable parts of the valley, but it does benefit from encircling it. Control of Kyrgyzstan equals control of the valley, and hence of Central Asia’s core.

Moreover, the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek is only 120 miles from Kazakhstan’s largest city (and historic and economic capital), Almaty. The Kyrgyz location in the Tien Shan also gives Kyrgyzstan the ability to monitor Chinese moves in the region. And its highlands also overlook China’s Tarim Basin, part of the contentious Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

Given its strategic location, control of Kyrgyzstan offers the ability to pressure Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. Kyrgyzstan is thus a critical piece in Russia’s overall plan to resurge into its former Soviet sphere.

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Alexander K.’s Belarussian Grandfather

How gratifying for a teacher to have their students enjoy an assignment so much that they take off with it by doing more work, over and above what was expected of them.  Read to the end of this essay to see how Alexander K. regarded his first assignment of simply writing 300 words about one of his grandparents.  This makes my teacher heart proud of my students and happy they enjoyed sharing just a little bit about someone special in their family.  Read on…

     “His name was Arcady Brodkin. He was born in 1921 in Belarusian SSR. Actually I didn’t know anything about him till yesterday evening, and I just didn’t even guess that I had such outstanding person in my family. He was frontier officer and served on the western limit.

     On June 22 1941 fascists attacked the Soviet Union and my grandpa was among them who took part in the first battle. When he was telling all that to my mom, she clearly remembered scary pictures of that story. There was a river passing by the battlefield about 80 metres width away. On the next day of the battle, it was possible to pass the river by dead bodies.

     Also he protected Moscow when Germans were within 25km distance in autumn 1941. He was wounded with a large-caliber shell. Leg was really milled and the bone was broken into little pieces. First, the doctors wanted to amputate his leg but one surgeon with golden hands tried to operate on him. He gathered all pieces of the bone, bridged all them together and saved my grandpa’s leg. After his leg was totally cured, he returned to the front to protect his native land.

     The war ended and he continued to serve on limit but he was sent to the eastern one. In that time there was a conflict with China. One enemy tried to pass the border unnoticed. A pursuit had begun for him. He was found only on the second day in the thicket of forest. When grandpa tried to arrest him, he resisted and injured his friend with a knife. He made arrest to bear his friend by his back. As they were too far from the post they reached it only after 3 days. My grandpa got pneumonia and thereafter he had asthma.

     During all his service he got 13 war awards.

     He decided to leave the military and go back home. When he had finally returned he knew that all his family: Mom, Dad, younger sister were killed by fascists. He didn’t want to stay in Belarus any more so he went to his friend in Tajikistan. There he was placed in Society for Preparation of Youth for service in the army as an instructor. There he met my grandma. She was great in shooting and she got first place in the city for shooting. And their great love gave a birth to my Mom who told me that entire story yesterday. And now I’m going to know more and more about all my relatives. I’m not a Kazakh and actually Russians don’t have a tradition to know all their forefathers but now I’m going to start a book where will be my geological history of our family.”

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