Central Asia Theater

Tibet: first self-immolations in Lhasa

Two young Tibetan men set fire to themselves May 27 outside one of Tibet's holiest shrines, the Jokhang Temple—marking the first self-immolations in Lhasa, Tibet's historic capital, where security has been tight since a March 2008 protest wave. Chinese state media reported that one of the young men died, while another is still alive. The two men, who self-immolated together, worked at a restaurant in Lhasa. One was said to be from Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) in Sichuan province, where most of the self-immolations have taken place, and the other from Labrang (Chinese: Xiahe) in the part of Gansu province known to Tibetans as Amdo. The self-immolations took place during Saga Dawa, an important religious period for Tibetans that commemorates the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death. The official media reported that Lhasa's Public Security Bureau has set up a special task force to investigate the case. (International Campaign for Tibet, May 28)

Kyrgyzstan: self-immolation signals growing unrest

An elderly man set himself on fire as a protest in Kyrgyzstan's southern city of Osh on April 15, and died of his injuries later in a hospital. The incident is being portrayed as a "protest against protests"; he apparently left a note calling on the Central Asian republic's citizens "to stop constant protest actions" and respect the country's leadership. The city is near the border with Uzbekistan, and has seen ongoing rival demonstrations since a wave of deadly clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in 2010. Kyrgyzstan's government has been trying to remove acting mayor Melis Myrzakmatov since the clashes, fearing his Kyrgyz ethno-natoinalist politics are fueling unsrest. His followers have repeatedly rallied in his support, with ethnic Uzbeks holding counter-demonstrations. According to official data, over 3,000 protests took place in the country in 2011; a major mobilization was held in the south this March, with Myrzakmatov's supporters demanding the government's resignation. (RFE.RL, RIA-Novosti, April 16; The Telegraph, March 29; International Crisis Group, March 29)

Geography wars in coverage of Tibetan self-immolations

The April 19 self-immolation of two young cousins in front of Jonang Dzamthang monastery brings the number of such acts of protest martyrdom by ethnic Tibetans to a total of 34 since a young monk at the Kirti monastery set himself on fire in March 2011 to protest against Chinese rule over his homeland—or 35 since a similar event at the Kirti monastery in February 2009 presaged the current wave. Trying to make sense of accounts of the incidents is a challenge given that two sets of geographical nomenclature are used. Both the Jonang Dzamthang and Kirti monasteries are in what the Chinese call Aba prefecture, which is known to Tibetans as Ngaba. The Jonang Dzamthang monastery is in Barma township, in what the Chinese call Rangtang county but the Tibetans name Dzamthang. Most controversially, pro-Tibetan sources (Free Tibet, Phayul) refer to Ngaba as being in "Eastern Tibet," while mainstream sources (BBC News, RTT News) refer to it as being in Sichuan province. Tibet Society, thankfully, opts for clarity by giving both the Tibetan and Chinese place names. But the politicization of geographical terms is explicit.

Tibet: self-immolations continue —and spread to India

Two Tibetan monks set themselves on fire in Maerkang, Sichuan province, on March 30—bringing the total of protest self-immolations in little more than a year to over 30. The monks came from a monastery 80 kilometers away. When fellow clergy learned of the immolations, they set out for the city only to be blocked by police about halfway to Maerkang (known to Tibetans as Barkham). (AP, March 30) Four days earlier, Tibetan exile Jampa Yeshi self-immolated at a protest march New Delhi, ahead of President Hu Jintao's scheduled arrival in India. (NYT, March 26)

Turkmenistan: new boss almost as wacky as old boss

Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov was sworn in as Turkmenistan's president Feb. 17, having won last week's election with a thoroughly predictable 97% of the vote. The seven token competitors were all from the same Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, the only on permitted. Several of them praised the incumbent during the race. The primary Western monitoring group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), declined to even send observers, citing the lack of real competition. An elaborate inauguration ceremony was attended by some 3,000 in the capital, Ashgabat, but no foreign leaders attended. Congratulatory messages were sent by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Uzbek leader Islam Karimov, Turkish President Abdullah Gul, and Azerbaijan's Ilham Aliyev. With natural gas reserves estimated to be the world's fourth largest—exceeding those of the US—Turkmenistan is strategically critical. The hydrocarbon wealth is being used to consolidate support for the regime, with household gas, water and electricity all provided free (and families receiving monthly rations of salt). And Berdymukhamedov says he wants both greater foreign investment and transition to a multi-party system. But the regime remains one of the most autocratic on earth, and Berdymukhamedov is starting more and more to mirror his notoriously megalomaniacal predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov...

Tibetan village prevails in mining struggle

In a case that seems to have received virtually no media coverage, the Sacred Land Film Project website reports on the struggle of the Tibetan village of Abin to halt a mining project on Mount Kawagebo, which is sacred to Tibetans and whose summit lies on the border between the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Yunnan province. The village and proposed mine are on the western slope of the mountain, within the TAR and along a traditional centuries-old pilgrimage route; the eastern slope, within Yunnan, is protected by the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the Yangtze, Mekong and Salween rivers plunge down through green gorges from the Tibetan plateau. Citing activist He Ran Gao of the Chinese NGO Green Earth Volunteers, the account states that gold mining began near the village in February 2011, over the protests of the villagers. After repeated attempts at negotiations failed, villagers pushed some $300,000 worth of mining equipment into the Nu River (as Tibetans call the Salween). Harassment, death threats and attacks on villagers predictably followed, and some fled to other villages to escape the violence. But then:

Tibetan self-immolations top 20 as repression escalates

se rule, Radio Free Asia reported Feb. 9. Yeshe Rigsal, a monk, and his brother had taken part in a Jan. 23 protest in the predominantly Tibetan county of Luhuo in Sichuan province that turned violent when police shot dead at least one person. The incident came a day after a 19-yr-old Tibetan set himself alight in Sichuan's Ngaba county, and an unidentified monk in his 30s set himself on fire in Tridu county, Keygudo Autonomous Prefecture (Chinese: Chenduo county, Yushu Autonomous Prefecture) of Qinghai province. The youth in Ngaba apparently lived, as security forces arrived and doused the flames, although he is hospitalized and his survival seems doubtful. Identified as Rinzin Dorjee (AKA Rikpe), he self-immolated at his school in Ngaba town, where 13 Tibetans have now set themselves on fire. The new incidents brought to 22 the number of Tibetans who had immolated themselves while protesting against Chinese rule since February 2009. Eight of the self-immolations have taken place this year. (Channel News AsiaPhayulTibetan Review, Feb. 10; TCHRD, Feb. 9)

Tibetan protests and deadly repression in Sichuan province

Although details and even the death toll are disputed by Chinese authorities and Tibetan exile and support groups, a wave of protest and repression has left several dead in the Tibetan ethnic areas of Sichuan province this week. Three Tibetans were reported killed and several injured when police opened fire on protesters as they gathered in Draggo county, Kardze (Chinese: Garze) prefecture (the Tibetan area of Kham), on Jan. 23, the first day of Chinese New Year. The violence followed the circulation of leaflets in the area saying that Tibetans should not celebrate the New Year because of the recent self-immolations, and declaring an intention by the leaflets' unnamed authors to set themselves on fire at the Tibetan New Year (Losar, Feb. 22). A clash was also reported that day in nearby Luhuo county, with officials confirming one dead after protesters stormed local shops and a bank, and attacked police vehicles. Two days later, another two were killed in an incident in neighboring Seda county. China's official Xinhua news agency quoted authorities as saying rioters attacked a police station with stones, knives and petrol bombs, with 14 police injured. Disturbances were also reported Jan. 24 in Pema (Baima) town, seat of Golog prefecture, with several Tibetans detained, including one monk. The town is reportedly under curfew, as security forces have been rushed in.

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