Bloggingheads: A Crash Course in Central Asia

Made my Bloggingheads debut this week, sitting down to talk to Natalie Sambhi about Central Asia. Natalie is a co-host, along with my old professor Rob Farley and Matt Duss, of the Foreign Entanglements Bloggingheads program. They essentially video chat with interesting people around the world about foreign policy issues. I’ve been watching these since grad school so it was super cool to get to do it myself!

Natalie asked me for a “crash course” on Central Asia and I did my best to provide that…



RFE/RL Podcast: Talking Nepotism in Central Asia

Talked regional nepotism with a crew of incredibly smart guys last week: Muhammad Tahir, RFE/RL Turkmen Service director and Podcast Host Extraordinaire; Alisher Ilkhamov, a research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London; Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch; and Bruce Pannier, who runs an excellent Central Asia blog for RFE/RL.

Check out Bruce’s write-up of the conversation here and get a good listen in as well.

Though perhaps too simplistic (I’m more comfortable writing than I am speaking, but I’m getting better at it the more I do!), I stand by my statement that seeding the government with your relatives works… up until the point it doesn’t. And when it falls apart, it does so in a grand fashion because while you’ve been making your sons and daughters ministers, the ministries have atrophied under them. Family is reliable (to a degree) in terms of loyalty but not always competence. As succession approaches in the next decade and a half across the region–Uzbekistan’s Karimov is 78, Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev is 75, and Tajikistan’s Rahmon is 63–eyes are on their offspring as potential successors. Uzbekistan is a prime example of how it can all go wrong.

Anyhow, listen to the podcast and read Bruce’s article (well, all his articles but definitely that one).

Interview with CAAN

I did an interview with the Central Asian Analytical Network recently. Discussed a whole range of things: how I got into studying/writing about Central Asia, how covering the region fits into The Diplomat‘s overarching Asia focus, coverage of the region by Western media, my thoughts on the region’s challenges, opportunities and a bunch more.

It was translated into Russian, too. CAAN’s aim is to give people in the region greater access to objective information and good analysis so most of their content is primarily in Russian. They’re doing wonderful work.


это я! (It’s me!)




A Week of Central Asian Politics and Politicking

Another week in Central Asia:

Last Sunday, Kyrgyzstan held successful parliamentary elections. The Diplomat published a wonderful photo essay of election day in Bishkek, a real glimpse at polls in the capital.

Kyrgyzstan also reopened its embassy in Belarus after a 3-year hiatus. Long story short, Belarus has refused repeatedly to extradite the Kyrgyz president deposed in 2010–he’s living a fairly comfortable life as a Belarusian now.

In Turkmenistan, the US broke ground on a new embassy. The US is using the construction as a metaphor. “This is not just another building project in Ashgabat,” the US Ambassador said at the ceremony.

Wednesday was Vladimir Putin’s birthday and the celebrations were as ridiculous as you can imagine: a hockey game, a special rap song release, bombing Syria. But Putin also made time to meet this week with both the Tajik and Kyrgyz presidents.

Kazakhstan’s president met with the president of Ukraine this week as well. Nazarbayev, for all his autocratic faults, is an extremely deft politician. Nowhere is this more evident than in his balancing of relations between Ukraine and Russia.

Mutabar Tadjibayeva, a well-known Uzbek human rights activist who now lives in France–as a political refugee–says she was subject to torture, gang-rape and forced sterilization at the hands of Uzbek authorities. This week, Uzbekistan was essentially ordered by a UN body to investigate her allegations. I’m not terribly optimistic it will lead to any concrete investigation or improvement but I do think it’s important to keep putting these stories in the public space.

And for something different: I wrote about Megadeth’s first concert in China (they were a little censored, which is fairly common). I’m a closet metalhead. Never really thought that corner of knowledge would come in handy professionally.

End of a Central Asia Summer

I’ve been quite delinquent of late with regard to updating this, but I’ve been busy and it’s been nice out. Since last I posted, I’ve written 51 things. I’ve bolded the ones you should definitely read.

I’ll try to be more diligent about posting–and I’m going to try to branch out in this space. For work I’m Central Asia half the time and Magazine things the other half; I have a great number of interests beyond what’s represented here and want to keep pushing myself to be a better writer, journalist, editor.