IWPR Articles

IWPR holds regular trainings for students and journalists from across Central Asia, with their materials published in Russian and national languages on the analytical platform CABAR.asia and in English for international readers on iwpr.net . Articles by IWPR reporters cover current events andsignificant trends that affect the lives of people in the whole Central Asian region.

“Cyber Shield” and Cyber Holes of Kazakhstan

At a glance, official emails of almost all state authorities of Kazakhstan are registered with foreign state email domains – mail.ru, yandex.ru and gmail.com, while the state domain – .gov – is ignored. The question is how well is the Kazakhstan cyberspace protected from external threats?

Return to Tajikistan: “Those Who Repent Will Be Amnestied”

The return of the first Tajik woman who spent a year in the Syrian city of Idlib, on the territory of the IS (terrorist and extremist organization banned in Tajikistan – Ed.), gives hope to other parents whose children went to the Arab conflicts zone and did not return.



Life of Adventists in Uzbekistan

Adventism in Uzbekistan appeared in 1905, at the times of Tsarist Russia, due to the religious families that moved here. Back in the 30s, during repressions, the Adventist branch was sent to Siberia. The followers of Adventism returned back to the country only in 1956.

Life of Lutherans in Kyrgyzstan: From Misunderstanding to Tolerance

Lutheranism is one of the first movements in Protestantism. Despite its considerable, almost five centuries, age, it is probably one of the Christian religions most unknown to general public in Kyrgyzstan.

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*This publication was prepared as a series of CABAR.asia articles dedicated to raising awareness on religious diversity in Central Asian countries. The authors do not seek to promote any religion.

The core of Kyrgyz Lutherans consists of Germans removed during the Second World War. The initial communities of Evangelical Lutherans appeared in Kyrgyzstan back in 1999. Today Kyrgyzstan has about 15 functioning Lutheran churches. One of them is the Concordia Church located in the suburbs of Bishkek. It is the first officially created and registered Lutheran church in Kyrgyzstan. It occurred in 2003.

The Lutheran church is headed by bishop Kenzhebek Botobaev, who had been interior affairs officer for 15 years:

“My first education is secular. First I graduated from the Zh.Balasagyn National University majoring in Finances and Credit. Then I entered the Seminary in Bishkek. In 2007, I was given the rank of pastor, and two years later, in 2009, the rank of bishop. This is when I started serving the church.”

Lutheran church Concordia in Bishkek. The church looks like an ordinary mansion from a distance. Photo: CABAR.asia
The Lutheran church has been located at the current address for 10 years. Before that, it had to rent a basement meant for 100 people. Photo: CABAR.asia

In addition to the church in Bishkek, there are other branch offices in Chui region: in Kara Balta, Panfilovka, Petrovka and Kemin. However, they have small parishes – 10-15 people.

There was a small church at Issyk Kul in Aksu district, but it was closed due to lack of people.

According to modest estimates, Kyrgyzstan has about 600 Lutherans. The city church is full on Christmas services and during the Easter, and up to 25 parishioners attend the church on Sundays. The church is open to everyone regardless of ethnicity or religion.

A church hall. Photo: CABAR.asia

“Some attend our church regularly; others are scared to do the same. Instead, they invite us to their houses to read prayers.”

There were nearly 200 thousand Lutherans in Kyrgyzstan originally. Now we don’t know the precise number. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Germany opened borders to ethnic Germans. The number of ethnic Germans who left Kyrgyzstan reached two hundred thousand,” Botobaev said.

The date of origin of the Lutheranism is associated with October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther criticised openly the Roman Catholic Church by nailing a board with 95 theses to the doors of his church in Wittenberg. Photo: CABAR.asia

Osmon Kachkynchiev is 51 years old. He became Lutheran 15 years ago, and now is the pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran church in Kemin, Chui region.

Osmon Kachkynchiev. Photo from personal archives

— It was through pastors who came to Kyrgyzstan from the United States that I learned about the Lutheranism. At first, it was a mere interest, I took the Bible and studied what it said. Afterwards, I continued studying at the church.

I studied for seven years in a religious institution and then I became a pastor in the church. I believe the God has called me to follow this path.

There are about 10 Lutherans in Kemin, including two Kyrgyz and one Turkish woman. The majority of them are elderly people. There used to be many of them in the past, but some have moved to the capital, some have died.

My relatives took my decision quietly. At first, we used to have disputes because my father and my younger brother were imams in different mosques. It made no sense for them. But over time they supported me by saying, “A man is known by his actions and good deeds, not religion.”

There are no critical differences or inconsistencies between the Islam and Lutheranism. Religious denomination is a delicate thing. We follow the same sacred writings as are referred to in the Quran and Bible. But some people find it hard to understand.

I have buried my relatives according to Islamic traditions and also performed the last rites instead of the priest. As to the funeral procession, there were some conflicts in the past. Local people could stand against the burial, for example, in the Islamic cemetery. However, it never caused serious confrontation.

Nevertheless, we often raise the issue of dividing the cemetery into separate sections for every religion to avoid unwanted conflicts.

“We’ve been blamed for apostasy”

According to the head of the church, Kenzhebek Botobaev, it was hard to co-exist with the local population since the creation of communities:

Kenzhebek Botobaev. Photo: CABAR.asia

— There used to be persecution, rejection. Once we were in Yssyk Ata village, and nearly a hundred local people gathered there and were willing to kill us. Later on, those people filed a report to the prosecutor’s office, where we interrogated repeatedly. However, neither we, nor law enforcement bodies could understand the reason.

As for me, I became a Lutheran after my wife and thanks to the prayers of past pastors, who were missionaries here, Timothy Nickle, Bob Fial.

I didn’t even want to listen about the Lutheranism in the first days. I kicked preaching pastors out from my house and threw stones at their back. I didn’t associate myself with any religion. I didn’t attend the mosque, I didn’t pray. Nevertheless, it was disgusting for me to think about attending a church.

But gradually, thanks to prayers and teachings of pastors, I became a Lutheran and started to attend the church. I understood that I did few good things in this world and I repented. It was hard. It was hard to accept the fact that all turned their back on us – relatives, friends, society.

This is what the canonical dress of a Lutheran priest looks like. Photo: CABAR.asia

Ethnicity and religion are absolutely different things.

Continuous gossips behind our back were a regular thing. We didn’t contact our relatives for six years. They thought I betrayed my religion. And they deemed my religion was Islam only because I was a Kyrgyz. But ethnicity and religion are absolutely different things. I observe all of our traditions and customs, and also I trust in God and attend the church. However, it’s difficult to explain to people.

We couldn’t come out of our house and our children couldn’t attend school because of oppression. We were blamed for apostasy at state meetings. Now it feels much better if we ignore very rare conflicts. Mainly, it happened due to the State Agency for Religious Affairs. We gather together and discuss relevant issues for the second year in a row.

There’s a low vision clinic at the Concordia Lutheran church. It provides free of charge glasses to visually impaired people. People of different ages and ethnicities sit near the consulting room.  Photo: CABAR.asia
Up to 15 people visit the ophthalmologist every day. Not all patients are religious, some come to take glasses and never come back. Photo: CABAR.asia
English classes for everyone are held on weekdays at the Lutheran church. The students are mainly junior school pupils. Photo: CABAR.asia

“Requirements to pastors are very high”

The common prayer in the church is held in two languages – Kyrgyz and Russian. Russian-speaking parishioners are received by pastor Mansur Kurmanbakeyev:

— I was born in Novosibirsk. My late father was a military engineer and was sent to Kyrgyzstan to a computer plant. We were provided with an apartment to live. Here I graduated from the polytechnic university and it happened so that I buried both mother and father in the same year.

Kenzhebek Botobaev and Mansur Kurmanbakeyev. Photo: CABAR.asia

My friend of German ethnicity was beside me those days. When he saw my situation, he took me to the Lutheran church. Afterwards, I started to help a local pastor. After a while, he suggested that I should go to Novosibirsk to get a degree in a religious institution. After five years of study, I returned to Kyrgyzstan and it’s been 13 years since I became a pastor.

By the way, requirements to pastors are very high. In addition to a religious education, you must have life experience. You should be married and have at least one child. People of different ages come to make their confessions to me and I must know what to talk about with them. Language skills are a mandatory requirement. We read Old Testament in original – in the old Hebrew script, New Testament in original – in the ancient Greek. Knowledge of languages help us explain difficult writings to people.

Photo: CABAR.asia

Easter services are starting soon in all Lutheran churches. The traditions of the Lutheran Easter are much like Easter traditions of Catholics and Orthodox Christians. However, the dates vary: the Lutherans celebrate Easter on April 21, according to the Julian calendar. The orthodox Christians are celebrating the Resurrection of Christ on April 28, 2019. So, the difference between these dates is one week. However, it can reach one and a half months. Catholic Easter is usually celebrated first, and Orthodox Easter is celebrated afterwards.

Currently, the Lutherans are fasting for 40 days. It’s time to repent, reflect and pray.

This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia»

Baptist Community of Tajikistan: 90 Years of Hopes and Dreams

According to various data, baptism in Tajikistan is practised by 0.005 to 0.02 per cent of residents. Representatives of this Christian movement have been the integral part of the spiritual life of the country for 90 years already.



Leave Like a Kazakh. Foreign Media on Nazarbayev’s Resignation

This is how foreign media have covered the resignation of the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

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The resignation of Nursultan Nazarbayev from the office of President of Kazakhstan has become a significant event in the former Soviet countries the international press could not but cover. In addition to news items about the situation in the country, Russian media have published long reads with some historical background, analysis and expectations.

Kazakhstan is the significant foreign political partner of Russia and the key member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the idea of which is ascribed to Nazarbayev in the mid of the 90s. Putin was the first one whom Nazarbayev contacted by phone to tell about his decision.

All analysts absolutely share the opinion that “in practice, Tokayev’s power would be restricted by the need to always consult his predecessor.” According to the Meduza, the constitutional reform pursued in recent years has been clearly intended to ensure early resignation of Nazarbayev from the office of president without any loss of influence.

Novaya Gazeta notes that Yelbassy (leader of the nation) has skilfully removed all major figures from the political scene of Kazakhstan in 30 years and left not a single politician who could be fully deemed a successor.

The Russian media has placed emphasis on the role of the United States and China in the change of the head of state in Kazakhstan. In the interview to TASS, Andrei Korobkov, professor of political science of Tennessee State University, said that Washington is well aware of the resource potential of the country and the significance of Kazakhstan for Russia as one of the key members of the Eurasian Union. “Therefore, they [United States] will certainly be trying to influence the process somehow, to promote their people, but it wouldn’t be that easy because the presence of the United States in Kazakhstan is relatively limited. The Americans are concerned not only with the presence of Russia, its impact on the country, but also with the potential expansion of China’s role.”

“Kazakhstan has many political forces, and a game will be played among those who are more or less prone to Russia or the United States. However, I believe that if Nazarbayev has the influence, he will maintain the multi-vector approach of Kazakhstan and good relations with Russia, United States, EU, China and other regional powers,” Sean Roberts, programme director of researches in international development of Georgetown University, said to RIA Novosti.

The respondent of the news agency also noted that in the event of successful transition of power in Kazakhstan, the next state where the same scenario is possible would be Tajikistan, led by Emomali Rahmon since early 1990s.

Pressure on the Kremlin                                          

Western media have shown less excitement about the resignation of Nazarbayev. If major global media outlets have devoted analytical material and reviews to this event, local media have published news items, at best.

The voluntary resignation of ex-president Nazarbayev should be seen through the prism of post-Soviet space and Russia, in particular.

The Guardian wrote that this manoeuvre may answer a key question for ageing post-Soviet autocrats: how to safely relinquish power in the winner-takes-all political systems that they have created. The respondent from the media, Mark Galeotti, a security analyst and the author of We Need to Talk About Putin, said that Nazarbayev’s exit strategy could provide a preview of a similar plan in the Kremlin.

Marlene Laruelle, the director of the Central Asia Programme at George Washington University, in the interview to the New York Times expressed the same opinion. According to her, the resignation of Nazarbayev is symbolically putting pressure on the Kremlin. Even if Putin, at 66, is much younger than Nazarbayev and was just elected last year to another six-year term.

Russian journalist Konstantin Eggert in his column for the Russian service of DW wrote, “First comments appeared just a few minutes after the resignation, “Nazarbayev is testing a model of resignation from presidency for Putin.” The joke is good, yet it has nothing to do with the reality. The two leaders have absolutely different political culture and history, ambitions, identity and expectations. I think Putin won’t be able to repeat Nazarbayev’s experience – even if the experience is successful, and even if he wants it.”

According to Washington Post, Nazarbayev is not the first post-Soviet autocrat to attempt to choreograph leadership change by reminding about the experience of Russia and Azerbaijan. However, the media noted that even in cases where departing leaders do pass power to a chosen successor, there are few guarantees.

They cite an example of ex-president of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambaev, who “did everything in his power to ensure that his prime minister, Sooronbai Zheenbekov, was elected Kyrgyzstan’s next president.” Once Zheenbekov took power, however, he wasted little time launching criminal investigations against members of Atambaev’s inner circle.

“With Nazarbayev’s resignation, [president of Uzbekistan Shavkat] Mirziyoyev seems likely to emerge as Central Asia’s leading statesman. Kazakhstan, now under the leadership of an interim president, will need to accept, at least in the short run, diminished influence regionally and globally,” Washington Post wrote.

Foreign experts share the opinion that the new president of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev is just a temporary figure. “The real question is, who will be Kazakhstan’s third president,” analyst Camilla Hagelund said in the interview to Reuters.

“Old and a good friend”

One more aspect discussed in foreign press is the influence of China, which is actively promoting the New Silk Road project.  Bloomberg noted the words of Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman that Beijing remains confident in bilateral cooperation and is familiar with Tokyev, who has been an “old friend and a good friend.”

Chinese media cover the resignation of Nazarbayev in the same way. According to Shanghai Daily, China has confidence in ties with Kazakhstan.

According to CGTN, since taking over the country’s top office, Nazarbayev has made over 20 official visits to Beijing. “To him, China is Kazakhstan’s “closest and most reliable friend and partner.”

A good sign for Beijing is that Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev speaks fluent Chinese.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.


Nursultan Nazarbayev’s Safety Cushions

Here we describe the most important posts that the ex-president of Kazakhstan continues to hold and what authorities they give.


Nazarbayev Resigns, But This is Not Goodbye

The veteran leader is in no rush to give up real authority. (more…)

“Thank You for Everything.” Kazakhstanis on Nursultan Nazarbayev’s Resignation

The statement made by Nursultan Nazarbayev on his resignation as the leader of Kazakhstan for the last 29 years has taken people by surprise. Some hope for changes to the better, others say that the successor would pursue the Yelbassy’s (leader of the nation) policy. However, almost all recognise the decency of the first president of Kazakhstan, who was the only president until recently.

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Authors: Indira Asanova (Astana), Asem Zhapisheva (Almaty), Danil Shemratov and Dinara Bekbolayeva (Shymkent)

Although the issue of a possible resignation of the nation’s leader and now ex-president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been discussed for a long time, even experts couldn’t foresee this situation. According to analysts, Nazarbayev once again has set an example of the leader with strategic vision – by his statement he has launched the scheme designed to maintain his authority, influence and position of his family.

See also: Nazarbayev Resigns, But This is Not Goodbye

In social media, the Kazakhstanis thank Nursultan Nazarbayev for the job he has done and for successes achieved during his presidency.

#nazarbayev resigns. What a twist. He has been president for 28 years 10 months and 23 days.


Nazarbayev has resigned. Thank you for everything

We’ve become witnesses to the historical moment in our country! This is the end of the era and the rebirth of the new one! May God give our country eternal peace and prosperity! Rakhmet, Nursultan Abishuly! Alga Kazakhstan!

According to the survey of the Kazakhstanis in various towns of the country, they seemed to be not prepared for the news. Astana residents recognise the country’s achievements under the presidency of Nursultan Nazarbayev, thank him and hope for positive changes.

Among candidates for the position of a new head of state is Imangali Tasmagambetov, current ambassador of Kazakhstan to Russia. Earlier he was deputy Prime Minister, chief of Ministry of Defence, and also mayor of Astana and Almaty.

See also: Mereke Gabdualiev on pinpoint staff decisions of Nazarbayev before resignation


Daniyar Shaikenov, entrepreneur: This news made me sad because Nazarbayev was ruling Kazakhstan for 30 years, was a good president, and we have succeeded thanks to Nazarbayev.

Renat Kilirov, student: It was strange because it happened all of a sudden. I am shocked. Everything was under control and stable with him. The city has thrived, especially Astana.

Marina Nosova, resident of Astana: It’s sad for the country that he resigned. Maybe, it was inevitable. I hope for more improvements [from the new president], for new positive changes.

See also: Mereke Gabdualiev on pinpoint staff decisions of Nazarbayev before resignation

The residents of southern Kazakhstan have ambiguous attitude towards the president’s resignation. Almaty residents note Nazarbayev’s successes during 29 years of his presidency; however, they have different opinions of the country’s future. Some think there would be no intrigue and next year the president would only pursue the predecessor’s policy.  Others hope for changes and liberalisation.


Karim Kadyrbaev: I am still perplexed. I don’t remember anything like that to happen before. I can’t imagine how people behave when the head of state resigns.  I cannot understand my feelings and emotions. I agree with the people who think that nothing would change because this transit of power was not through election and the person who became the interim [president] (he means former chair of the Senate, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev) has been with Nazarbayev from the beginning. He is a person of the same system, with the same ideals and values as [Nazarbayev]. I am waiting for the news about the election and the people who will be running for presidency.

Natalia Kudarova: When I heard the news, I was shocked because Nazarbayev was my idol as a progressive figure, wise and educated. I was very disappointed. I hope the new president will pursue the policy chosen by Mr Nazarbayev.

Aleksandr: As they say, make way for youth. Just like Yeltsin made way for Putin, Nazarbayev is trying to do the same… he is not that healthy as he used to be. So, I think it was a good decision.

A resident of Almaty: This person has been in power for 30 years, with good and bad moments. In general, I would say his work was good. I take [his resignation] positively, and I hope there will be positive changes. We expect liberalisation, more freedom, no internet blocking. What we will get remains to be seen.

Shymkent residents hope for positive changes that would follow the shift in power; however, they don’t have high expectations of any changes in the public administration system.

Kairat: I want to believe that the new president will be wise, a man of principle, and very assiduous. A lot of things need to be done in the country. Or even readjusted. I want fewer ostentatious shows like exhibitions or others. If we want to be recognised globally, we shouldn’t be making international presentations, but we should improve our domestic affairs. Only then will we have really high reputation. Above all, I am expecting more deeds, fewer words from the new head of state.

Timur: I hope we will have the age of elective presidents now. Smarter reforms should be pursued. I want to thank Nazarbayev and wish that the new president be not worse than his predecessor.  Or even better.

Alisher: I have no special expectations. It would be just like in Russia and like we used to have – we will have the new president for years to come regardless of the constitutionally fixed presidential term. As for our domestic policy with its good and bad sides, the system is very firm both in economy and in society so it would be very hard to change it.

Our president used to live in Akorda (official residence of the president), while we live in Kazakhstan. He feels more comfortable there. As for us, everything happened.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.

Internet in Tajikistan Will Become More Expensive

The rise of Internet price in Tajikistan will not lead to an increase in state treasury tax collection, but can lead to a complete degradation of the mobile Internet market in the country, experts say.


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