I went a conference last week on the Middle East and Central Asia. Actually, it was almost a Middle East and If We Do Manage to Mention Central Asia, It Will Be Only About Afghanistan Conference, but still, I take what I can get. Since there was so little about Central Asia and despite my interest in the Middle East, I only went to a few sessions.
The first evening wasn't amazing, but I very much enjoyed what I heard on Saturday. A woman associated with Soros spoke about health care in Central Asia, especially HIV and drug use in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. This was particularly timely because HIV rates have gone up dramatically in Central Asia and it is beginning to result in lots of accidental infections. Injecting drug users might make up the vast majority of your HIV population, but that doesn't mean you can protect the blood supply when you've got rampant corruption. The presenter mentioned that they were having trouble with the needles that were being exchanged in needle-exchange programs were being sold and used, unsterilized, to hospitals. A brilliant way to make some money. The governments and NGOs in Central Asia have a long way to go, and hopefully not too many more children will be infected because of it. Or hopefully the fact that innocent children have already been infected will spur a little more effort in the area.
I also heard two presenters talk about Afghanistan; one was particularly interesting because his organization has been studying what the Soviets did in Afghanistan in the 80s and trying to figure out what they did wrong (or right, as it is often turning out to be). I picked up a copy of his paper and it has been fascinating to read.
But what made it all worth it was Uli Schamiloglu's presentation on Islam in Russia and Central Asia. He is Tatar himself and mostly focused on the area around Kazan, but with plenty about Central Asia. I would love to take some classes from him. As I mentioned, the conference was almost completely about the Middle East so most of the audience was familiar with Islam in the Middle East, but not with Islam in Central Asia or Russia. Their questions at the end were interesting because of that.
So, I was glad I could go and I'll watch for this conference next year and hope for a bit more about Central Asia.