Bruce Sterling on Fri, 23 Nov 2001 11:01:50 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Internet and Media Palace Frenzy in Kazakhstan

Check Out This Weird Media Coup in Kazakhstan.  Note "Internet Terrorism,"
American Lawyers, and Drug Arrest Angles *8-/

>From RFE/RL Central Asia report

week of political drama in Kazakhstan began with the resignation on 14
November of President Nursultan Nazarbaev's son-in- law, 38-year-old
Rakhat Aliev, from his post as deputy chairman of the National Security
Committee (NSC). Unfolding events offered tantalizing glimpses of a
Byzantine power struggle going on between the government and opposition,
between the center and the provinces, and within Nazarbaev's family

    On 10 October Deputy of the Mazhlis (the Kazakh parliament's lower
house) Tolen Toqtasynov publicly accused Aliev of abuse of power for using
the NSC to monitor the activities of opposition political parties, while
he secretly owned or controlled the majority of the country's print and
electronic media outlets -- among them Kazakh Commercial Television
(KTK-TV) and the popular newspaper "Karavan" -- together with his wife,
the president's eldest daughter, Dariga (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report,"
18 October 2001).

Aliev denied the allegations, which he claimed were politically motivated.
He said the man ultimately behind the campaign against him was the
38-year-old governor of Pavlodar Region in northern Kazakhstan, Galymzhan
Zhaqiyanov, for whom Toqtasynov was merely a front man (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 19 October 2001). Zhaqiyanov controls media instruments of his
own; both he and Aliev have been using their outlets to criticize one
another for a long time. Aliev, who became deputy security chief in 1999,
previously was a senior official of the Kazakh tax police.

    On 14 November parliamentary deputies called on Aliev to give an
account of his activities and those of the NSC at a session of the
Mazhlis. They also pressed NSC Chairman Marat Tazhin to make sure Aliev
turned up, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. But Tazhin, far from supporting
the deputies' demands, ordered his subordinate not to appear before the

According to Kazakhstan Today news agency, Aliev had said he was perfectly
willing to appear before the deputies since he had nothing to hide.
Forbidden to do so by his boss, however, Aliev suddenly submitted his
resignation to President Nazarbaev on 14 November. Furthermore, he said
that he intended to sue Tazhin through his lawyers in the United States,
RFE/RL's Kazakh bureau reported the following day.

    Nazarbaev accepted his son-in-law's resignation on 15 November and
promptly appointed in his place a 45-year-old ex-KGB official, Major
General Nartai Dutbaev, who among other posts had run the NSC department
in Pavlodar Region, Interfax-Kazakhstan said.

Many observers were surprised to see the president apparently turn against
a member of his own family, especially given the level of nepotism in
state structures: Dariga runs the state news agency Khabar, while his
other son-in-law, Timur Kulibaev, is head of one of the country's largest

To explain the timing of Nazarbaev's change of heart toward Aliev, it may
be significant that, according to some sources, Aliev's marriage with
Dariga is on the rocks.

Moreover, Nazarbaev was later quoted as telling journalists that he had
discovered that Aliev simply had "too many enemies" and thus was a
liability, RFE/RL reported on 17 November.

Russian newspapers have been speculating for months that a battle to
succeed Nazarbaev is underway among members of his family, with Aliev and
Dariga leading contenders and perhaps rivals.

Head of the opposition Orleu movement Seydakhmet Quttyqadam offered
another perspective on possible shifting political alliances when he
pointed out that Aliev belongs to the Middle Horde, while Nazarbaev
belongs to the Great Horde (see "RFE/RL Kazakh News," 15 November 2001).
The three Kazakh Hordes (Great, Middle and Small) are a legacy of nomadic
society that are thought to function like clan- networks through which
political patronage is channeled.

    Meanwhile, Aliev's whereabouts on the day his resignation was accepted
were unknown, with rumors flying that he had been placed under house
arrest. Significantly, Dariga did not step forward to defend him.

But Aliev's sister, Gulshat, who happened to be in Lebanon on 15 November,
held a press conference in Beirut at which she said that his life was in
danger and asked international democratic institutions to follow his case.
In a nice twist, she said she was afraid her brother might be unlawfully
persecuted, and that she would engage American lawyers to help defend his
human rights, Kazakhstan Today reported.

    Almost immediately after Aliev tendered his resignation, KTK- TV,
owned by the Alma-Media Holding company that he had been accused of
secretly controlling, shut down for two days and only showed a color test

   On 16 November, all copies of the weekly newspaper "Karavan," also a
part of Alma-Media, were recalled from the distributors and the
newspaper's operation was suspended. On the same day, the staffs of both
the TV station and the newspaper issued a joint statement protesting the
suppression of press freedom by Kazakh law-enforcement agencies, which the
journalists described as "the practical introduction of censorship."

    In response, they announced that they had established an independent
union called Solidarnost ("Solidarity"), in order "protect press freedom
and democratic principles," RFE/RL's Kazakh bureau reported. They further
demanded that police stop tapping journalists' telephones and intercepting
their mail, and that the government stop using trumped-up charges to shut
down independent media.

    The Ministry of Culture and Information responded that allegations of
censorship and interference were untrue and represented "a deliberate
attempt to misinform the public," Interfax- Kazakhstan reported on 17
November. The government had exerted no pressure on KTK-TV and the channel
had suspended broadcasts of its own volition, the ministry said.

    When KTK-TV returned to the air late on 16 November, it reported that
the building of Kazakhstan TV Channel One, the Kazteleradio (Kazakh TV and
radio) building, and the Kok-Tobe broadcasting tower in the city of Almaty
were effectively being seized by the Interior Ministry, as the private
security firms normally responsible for guarding them were in the process
of being replaced by squads of police armed with assault rifles. These
included special antiterrorist units from the NSC, the report said.

Allegedly, the transfer had been mandated by a government decree of 10
November whereby strategic installations throughout the country should
pass under state protection as security against terrorist threats.
However, KTK-TV said, no one had actually seen the document and nobody at
the Interior Ministry would tell journalists what it said.

    But Khabar TV reported on 16 November that Almaty's heating plant,
water supply system, television tower, and telecommunications companies
all fell under the rubric of strategic facilities and were being taken
over by state guardsmen.

    There had been earlier hints of tighter government controls with the
detention on 14 November of Daniar Ashimbaev, a famous Kazakh journalist
and one of the founders of the Moscow-based, Internet
publication, which has criticized Nazarbaev's regime harshly.

     Ashimbaev himself is believed to be a supporter of Aliev. The day
that Aliev resigned, Ashimbaev was arrested in Almaty for illegal drugs
possession after 0.05 grams of heroin and six tablets of ecstasy were
allegedly found on his person (see "RFE/RL Kazakh News," 16 November

    Aliev resurfaced in public on 17 November, appearing on KTK-TV to
issue a brief statement. First, however, Nazarbaev delivered a television
address from his presidential office in which he said that Aliev's
decision to resign had been perfectly correct given the circumstances --
which he did not specify -- and announced that he had appointed him to be
deputy head of the presidential guard service.

    He continued to say that he would always stand up for those media
outlets "that obey the law" and wrapped up his address with an irrelevant
promise to support small and medium-sized businesses. Aliev then spoke to
the cameras, complaining that he had been the victim of libelous
accusations but insisting that he had proven his innocence in court and
the slanderers had been punished. It was unclear what accusations and what
decisions in his favor he was referring to.

    The heat is not off Aliev yet, though. Zhaqiyanov, the governor of
Pavlodar Region, told TAN-TV on 16 November that Aliev was responsible for
a political crisis by trying to gather all Kazakhstan's power structures
and media outlets into his hands, and said that national leaders still
owed parliament an explanation of what was really going on in the country.

   Zhaqiyanov also seems to have provided the main impetus behind a new
political movement called Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, whose formation
was announced in Almaty on 18 November, Khabar TV and Interfax reported.
Among the other seven founding members were such senior political figures
as Deputy Prime Minister Oraz Dzhandosov, Deputy Defense Minister Zhannat
Ertlesova, and Mazhlis Deputy Toqtasynov, who made the initial accusations
against Aliev in October.

   The group's platform is to initiate new reforms since, in its view,
"democratic reforms in Kazakhstan have stopped." Deputy Finance Minister
Kayrat Kelimbetov, who told Khabar TV on 19 November that he would be
joining the movement, said more specifically that more power should be
devolved to parliament and local legislative bodies from the executive,
and that more regional officials should be elected rather than appointed.

    At a press conference on 19 November, the managers of KTK-TV and
"Karavan" revealed that for three months both media organs had been under
strong pressure from unidentified financial and political interests to
distort their coverage of certain public figures in Kazakhstan, Khabar TV
reported. The TV and newspaper had suspended operations the previous week,
the director of Alma-media said, in order to resist insistent demands and
offers of bribes to smear local "famous people and politicians," which
included "the president's family members." To help insulate them from such
pressure in the future, the two media outlets were selling 20 percent of
their shares to an American oil magnate, RFE/RL's Kazakh bureau reported
on 20 November.

    To cap off a politically memorable week in Kazakhstan, Prime Minister
Qasymzhomart Toqaev appeared on KTK-TV on 20 November to deliver a long,
rambling statement that began with a defense of the government's economic
record but quickly turned into an attack on insidious forces who were
trying to undermine the country from within, practicing "Internet
terrorism," "pretending to be concerned about democracy," "aiming at
redistributing property" -- and who were eventually identified as Pavlodar
Governor Zhaqiyanov, Deputy Defense Minister Ertlesova, Labor Minister
Alikhan Baymenov, and his own Deputy Prime Minister Dzhandosov, all of
whom were important members of the newly founded Democratic Choice of

    Singling out Pavlodar Region for criticism of its poor economic
record, Toqaev called on the president to impose discipline and order in
the land with a strong hand and to sack immediately the four public
figures he had named. Otherwise, threatened Toqaev, "I will resign

   By way of impressing on his listeners the need for social order at a
time of terrorist threat, and the kind of instability that could overtake
the country without a firm leader at the helm, he said that Kazakh
security organs had uncovered two assassination plots against Nazarbaev in
the last three months alone. He offered no details or corroboration.

    On the morning of 21 November, some of the leaders of Democratic
Choice of Kazakhstan whom Toqaev had attacked arranged a meeting at the
National Press Club in the Kazakh capital, Astana, to which they invited
the prime minister to discuss or clarify his statement of the previous
evening. Toqaev did not show up, at which point spokespeople for the new
movement told journalists that they could no longer work in the government
with him -- thus effectively forcing Nazarbaev to choose between him or
them. He showed no hesitation in his preference, with the presidential
press service's announcement a few hours later that Governor Zhaqiyanov,
Deputy Defense Minister Ertlesova, and Deputy Prime Minister Dzhandosov
had all been sacked.

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