Central Asia Theater

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.

Kazakhstan: security forces fire on striking oil workers

Kazakh interior ministry troops fired on striking workers in the Caspian Basin city Zhanaozen Dec. 16, leaving at least 10 dead. Scores were injured, and scores more detained. The violence came in a move to oust hundreds of striking workers from the square they had been occupying for six months to demand better wages and democratic reforms. The Kazakh prosecutor general called the protesters "hooligans" who tried to take weapons off police and torch installations of the Ozenmuinagaz oil company and government buildings as well as vehicles and ATMs. All communication to the city has been blocked, with Twitter and phone lines cut off.

First self-immolation in Tibet Autonomous Region reported

The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said Dec. 1 it has received reports from exiled Tibetans in India of the self-immolation of a former monk in Chamdo (Chinese: Changdu or Qamdo) prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). The reports, that have been micro-blogged and uploaded on Facebook accounts in Tibetan, indicate that the former monk, named as Tenzin Phuntsog, survived and has been hospitalized. At least one source stated that the former monk was from a monastery in Chamdo township, named as Karma monastery, which some sources say was under lockdown following a rumored bomb blast at a local government building on Oct. 26.

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