Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Tashkent Conference (1958)

I found this rare clip of the first Afro-Asian Writers Association conference in Tashkent in 1958. The sound is basically non-existent. But, you do get a sense of the importance of India in the movement with its large and prominent delegation to the conference.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Turkmenistan Bans all Tobacco Sales

The government of Turkmenistan has outlawed the sale of all tobacco products. Stores caught selling cigarettes face a fine of over $1,500. Black market cigarettes now sell for $10.50 a pack in Turkmenistan. That is about what they sell for in the highest priced legal markets in the world in places such as London. I had a lot of Turkmen students when I taught at AUCA and all of the men smoked. Given the high prices of black market cigarettes in Turkmenistan and its relatively low wages there is a lot of financial pressure now for Turkmen smokers to quit. It will be interesting to see how successful this experiment turns out to be.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Ghanaian Radio Talk Show Hosts Imprisoned and Fined by Supreme Court

This map to the right is now outdated. The recent sentencing of three radio talk show hosts to four months imprisonment as well as fines for them and the radio station totalling 90,000 cedis means that Ghana is no longer among those countries with a completely free press. Ironically, the talk show hosts sentenced to jail are supporters of the current ruling party and president even if they are strong critics of some members of the Ghanaian Supreme Court. The same Supreme Court has now sentenced them to jail.  This sentencing has sparked demonstrations by members of the NDC (National Democratic Congress) against their own president.The online Ghanaian media is awash with articles on this story. The incarceration and imposition of severe fines upon radio personalities is a throw back to the repressive practices that characterized the darkest days of military rule. During the more than five years I lived in Ghana it had a very free if not very competent press. Now it appears that the Ghanaian Supreme Court wishes to change that and not for the better.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Origins of the Modern Kyrgyz State

Present day Kyrgyzstan is a direct successor state of the Kyrgyz SSR which started out as the Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast after the initial delimitation of the borders of Soviet Central Asia in October 1924. The Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast was nearly 172,000 square versts and consisted of the Pishkek, Karakol-Naryn, Osh, and Jalal-Abad okrugs. It was further divided among 75 volosts. In total it had six cities, 721 villages, 727 auls, and five khutors. Its population numbered 737,000 people of which 63.5% were Kyrgyz, 16.8% Russian, 15.4% Uzbek, and 4.3% other nationalities. In 1926 the Soviet government upgraded the territory to the Krygyz ASSR. Ten years later they upgraded it again to a full Soviet republic.

Source: Sait Omurzakov, Istoriia Kyrgyzov i Kyrgyzstana (Bishkek: Ministry of Education of the Kyrgyz Republic, Kyrgyz State Juridical Academy, 2012), 151-152.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What will happen to International Ataturk Alatoo University?

The Turkish government is going all out to persuade foreign governments to shut down schools and other institutions related to the Gulen movement. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and the Russian Federation had earlier shut down or taken over all such entities in their states before the coup attempt. Now Ankara has called upon Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, and Pakistan to do likewise. Here in Bishkek there are two major Turkish universities. The first one, Kyrgyz-Turkish Manas University, is affiliated with the Turkish government. The second one, International Ataturk Alatoo University, is affiliated with the Gulen movement. It will be interesting to see what happens now that the Turkish government has called upon the Kyrgyz government to close Gulenist institutions.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Suggested Readings on Kurdish History?

Since I will be living and working in Kurdistan come the end of August I have been trying to educate myself on the region and its people. So far this has largely consisted of keeping up with news stories on the region, watching a few documentaries and interviews on Youtube, and listening to a lot of Kurdish music on Youtube. Granted these are rather superficial sources. But, one has to start somewhere. So I am asking for suggested readings on Kurdish history here. Currently I am in Kyrgyzstan so unfortunately I do not have access to JSTOR and other academic databases right now. Please bear that in mind regarding accessibility.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Sunny Saturday in Bishkek

It is a beautiful sunny Saturday in Bishkek today. The temperature is 27 C (80 F) with only 38% humidity. In previous summers, especially 2012, Bishkek has been really hot so this mild weather is a really welcome change. I think the greater than normal rainfall is responsible for it being considerably cooler this year.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Bishkek in July

This summer Bishkek has had an usually large number of rainy and cool days. Usually it is hot all the time. But, this summer has been anything other than usual.

I have been having extensive dental work done here prompted by the need for an emergency root canal. Since dental work here is very cheap and relatively good in quality I suppose it is a good thing in the long run. But, I really don't like people sticking sharp instruments in my mouth.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Next Month is the 75th Anniversary of the Deportation of the Volga Germans

Next month will mark the 75th anniversary of the deportation of the Volga Germans followed by the remainder of the Russian German population west of the Urals to Siberia and Kazakhstan. The official date of the commemoration is 28th August in accordance with the Ukaz issued by the Supreme Soviet even though the CC of the CPSU and SNK (Council of People's Commissariats) had already passed a decree ordering the deportation two days earlier. Of the nearly 800,000 ethnic Germans deported in 1941 from European areas of the USSR eastward about half came from the Volga region including Saratov and Stalingrad oblasts as well as the Volga German ASSR. The other half came from eastern Ukraine, the Caucasus, Crimea, and various areas of Russia outside the Volga region including Moscow. I have written quite a bit on this blog and elsewhere about the deportation and subsequent life of the Russian Germans under special settlement restrictions and in the labor army. You can find those pieces by searching this blog. But, this August marks the 75th anniversary and I think perhaps something more is called for to honor the memory of the victims of this crime against humanity. So if you have any suggestions leave them in the comments below.

Sunday, July 17, 2016


I just got back from two days in Almaty Kazakhstan. Due to the collapse of oil prices Kazakhstan is now cheaper than Kyrgyzstan despite the fact that Almaty has a level of development comparable to most European cities. Indeed going from Bishkek to Almaty is a lot like going from Mexico to the US in terms of architectural modernity. The cityscape of Almaty thus is in many ways much closer to that of cities in the EU and North America than it is to Bishkek. Even the old Soviet apartment blocks in Almaty look a lot newer and better maintained than those in Bishkek. The huge Megacenter mall has a lot of US franchises that I have not seen in many years including Burger King, Costas, Gloria Jean's, and Hardees. In addition to Central Asian food it has restaurants serving Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Georgian, Italian, and Croatian dishes among others. The tiny Ramstor at Vefa Center left Bishkek after 2010. But, the Megacenter has a huge and fully stocked Ramstor. Besides the Megacenter we also took the cable car ride above the city. It is like a ski lift but you take it down from the mountain and back. You get up the mountain in the first place on a minibus. I am not sure of all the reasons for the much greater development in Almaty than Bishkek. One clear reason is of course Kazakhstan's natural resources most notably oil and gas and the recent long run of high prices for these commodities. Another is undoubtedly political stability. Kazakhstan has been under the rule of the same man for its entire existence as an independent state. He was head of the Kazakh SSR for two years before that. In contrast Kyrgyzstan has had two major revolutions in recent years. They had one in 2005 and another in 2010. These two factors are undoubtedly major contributors to the much higher foreign investment Kazakhstan has received compared to Kyrgyzstan in the last decade. Finally, Almaty is a welcome relief from Bishkek and Accra in being free of NGO parasites from the EU and North America. For instance there is no Peace Corp in Kazakhstan. The absence of such organizations and their extremely corrupting influence on society undoubtedly has also played a significant role in Kazakhstan's recent social and economic development.

Monday, July 11, 2016

On the Move Again (Kurdistan)

In September I will be starting work teaching in the Social Sciences Department of the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. The university and surrounding city are located in Iraqi Kurdistan. The flag to the right is the Kurdish flag. I am very excited about this opportunity although I am sad to leave Ghana. But, for a variety of reasons it is time for me to move on. Interestingly enough my PhD and MA are from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) which specializes in the study of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. I have taught in Central Asia and West Africa, and now I will be working in the Middle East. I have heard a lot of very good things about Kurdistan in general and Sulaimani in particular and I look forward to arriving there in person soon.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Happy Independence Day to all my American Readers

Happy Independence Day to all my American readers both in the US and abroad.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Another Walk

I went back to the Afghan War memorial in Ata-Turk Park today and noticed that there were another ten slabs with the names of dead soldiers from the Kyrgyz SSR on them on the other side of the statue. So that would bring the number of names up to about 265. The actual number of dead must be greater, however.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Ramadan in Kyrgyzstan

In many ways Bishkek in the summer seems like a city frozen in time. Sure everybody has a smart phone and there are other technological and consumer items now that did not exist during Soviet times here. But, in many ways the city still seems very Soviet. The way of life of people, the functioning of the state, and the people in control of the state haven't changed nearly as much as for instance in Estonia and other countries that had been under socialist rule. The single biggest change in fact seems not to be the introduction of consumer capitalism which resembles Soviet state socialism in a number of important ways. Rather the single biggest change and it is a fairly recent one is the revival of Islam as an actually practiced religion rather than just an assertion as part of an ethnic identity. Kyrgyzstan is still fairly secular but people even in Bishkek now actually attend Mosque, celebrate Ramadan, and have otherwise started actually acting as Muslims. Many Americans tend to freak out about any increase in Islamic piety in the world. But, given the actual existing record of radical secularism in both its Soviet and capitalist forms I don't see why this should be the case, especially in Kyrgyzstan and other parts of Central Asia.