Kyrgyzstan: Hundreds Dead 69

The sad fact is that any posting about Central Asia sees my visitor figures plummet. I can please myself and don’t make money from this webiste. But I can see why commercial media ignore Central Asia. And the harsh truth is that, even when a dramatic crisis is occuring and this blog is one of the few sources of informed comment, only a dribble of people bother to google.

A disclaimer – I know Uzbek and Kirghiz people who don’t really understand what is happening. The only journalists who might have a clue are Michael Andersen and Monica Whitlock, and the latter self-censors a lot on Central Asia for family reasons. Disgracefully Britain does not even have an Embassy in Bishkek and “covers it” in the most desultory way imaginable from Astana, more than a thousand kilometers away.

Academic analyses concentrate on “clan systems” which mean nothing to most Kirghiz, who are unaware they belong to separate “clans” according to Western universities.

Even spellings are difficult becase you are transliterating non-Russian names, which had been rendered into Russian Cyrillic, into the latin alphabet. There is therefore no dispute on the Cyrillic spelling of Kyrgyzstan, but I always spelt it Kirghizstan in latin. Similarly the country’s interim leader I always spelt as Rosa Otubaeva, but now she is suddenly in tiny articles in the middle broadsheet pages as Roza Otunbayeva.

I endeavoured to give some background to the current conflict here:

Note the almost total lack of comments. Let me explain a bit more of Kyrgyzstan’s tragedy.

Newly independent Kyrgyzstan had, in Askar Akayev (spellings vary) by far the best President of any of the Central Asian states – out of an incredibly poor bunch. His country is dreadfully disadvantaged geographically. Distance from markets, poor communications and lack of infrastructure are a barrier even to the development of its mineral resources, but he instituted the freest economy in Central Asia and undoubtedly the least oppressed media and civil society.

I have referred before to Murray’s universal seven year rule. All governments everywhere in the world, even if they started clean, are after seven years deeply mired in sleaze. It applies everywhere, includng the UK. The subsidiary rule is that it is the President’s indulgence to his nearest and dearest which allows the poison to spread. I last referred to the rule as spoling the end of the second term of my friend John Kuffour in Ghana. The same happened to Akayev. Censorship crept back apace. Deepening corruption centred on his children, and it was for their political futures that he eventually indulged in vote rigging.

I remain sympathetic though to Akayev. He was eventually overthrown in the 2005 “Tulip revolution”, a coup in which genuine democrats were used by rival oligarchs wishing to take over the state’s resources. Akayev resigned to avoid bloodshed, and went back quietly to being a scientist in Moscow.

His replacement, President Bakiyev, proved worse than the man he had replaced in precisely the areas of vote rigging, media control and corruption which had been the complaints against Akayev. His old democratic allies deserted him and fought the 2009 election against him. Bakiyev’s re-election in 2009 with 83% was widely condemned. Bakiyev was particularly unpopular in the capital Bishkek, though apparently maintaining genuine popularity among rural Kirghiz. Two months ago Bakiyev was overthrown in a second popular revolution.

The interim leader, Rosa Otunbaeva, has announced fresh elections but her government has been overwhelmed by a gathering whirlwind of violence.

It would be wrong to characterise the violence as politically motivated. Ancient ethnic tensions and stereotypes have come to the fore and of course poverty is the root cause. But at the same time it is broadly true that the Uzbeks of the South generally support Otunbaev, while their Southern Kirghiz attackers generally do not and Bakiyev supporters have played some role in stirring up the violence. The ultimate loyalties of the police and army are not absolutely certain at this point.

To complicate things futher, while Osh’s Uzbeks may support Otunbaeva, President Karimov most certainly does not, seeing her as an embodiment of the dangers of democracy to dictators like him. And he most certainly does not want a flood of comparatively democratically sophisticated Uzbeks from Osh into Uzbekistan. That is why, even though Kyrgyzstan opened the border for Uzbeks to escape the violence, Uzbekistan did not. Remember also that Karimov had demolished most of the bridges and mined the entire border (see Murder in Samarkand).

Otunbaeva is a liberal Central Asian and, as typical of her generation, that means she looks to Russia. But Putin dislikes her for the same reasons as Karimov. That is why Putin and Karimov are anxious not to give help to Otunbaeva, but to refer the matter to that appalling dictators’ club, the Shanghai Cooperation Organistaion, whose primary purpose is to stamp on democracy throughout the region (oh, sorry “fight terrorism”)

Bakiyev meanwhile has taken refuge with the dictator’s dictator, Lukashenko of Belarus.

The Americans seem to have a policy of hunkering in their military base in Kirghiz and hoping nobody asks them anything. So far, it is working.

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69 thoughts on “Kyrgyzstan: Hundreds Dead

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  • super390

    All I know about non-Afghan Central Asia, besides the uprising against Karimov, is the Asia Times’ article during 2004-8 about America’s desperate attempts to funnel all of the gas and oil in these countries into the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline by promising everyone everything even though the wars were sucking in all our money.

    Now the American people have little awareness of this blatant violation of free-market principles. Until 2008 it never even occurred to most of them that Russia and the US could attempt to blackmail democratic Europe by controlling its fossil fuel imports. It is still alien to them that America’s side of this competition is hardly saintly, that the blackmail power we deny Putin will be used to keep Europe sending troops where we demand or lending money where we waste it.

    But it’s irrelevant, because the whole crackpot Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan scheme required that Turkey remain its anchor. Bush bet the region on that while destroying America’s popularity among Turks. Now it’s not looking very smart. Besides, China will eventually have things of real value to trade for all the oil in Russia, Iran and the ‘Stans.

    This might be the reason the US went to so much trouble to plant its forces in the region, but now has no plan to make them useful for any purpose but preventing the GOP from running the “Who Lost Afghanistan” chorus on Obama. In fact, the more countries the US has troops in, the fewer countries the US can have opinions about. We’re a reverse Gulliver, staking ourselves down with hundreds of our own pins.

  • Stephen

    Thanks Craig, That was an excellent post. What a blessing to get the straight dope!

  • Sam


    I welcome your informed articles about Central Asia, but don’t feel knowledgeable enough to comment.

    For what its worth, the world socialist website has an article about it today Whatever your political leanings, their analysis is usually better than much of the mainstream media, although I don’t know enough about the region in this case to judge.

  • ingo

    Thanks for this ecellent resumee, I was wondering when you are going to pick up on the unrest and ethnic unrest in Osh and the wider region so it seems.

    Just as the line in the sand drawings in Iraq and the wider middle east during the first half of last century has not made for adequate borders, neither has the soviet equivalent so it seems. This footnote under empirical zeal, should burn itself into any historians mind, something diplomats should take note of.

    US forces in Kyrgyzstan will most likely have some of their present contingents looking after their own safety within the bases I should think.

    But like so many I have no intimate knowledge of that area, merely understand that these three other ‘stans’ are neighbours of Afghanistan/Pakistan and are main transit countries for weapons and heroin.

    What is an important question would be ‘What are the chances of this spreading to Uzbekistan?or Tajikistan?

    How much has this got to do with re positioning of the newly installed Government and is Putin eventually going to accept Otunbaeva, he isn’t at present as it looks like.?

  • Steve Gibson


    Thank you for what is an excellent and knowledgeable article on the situation in Kyrgyzstan. It is refreshing to see an article that avoids the lazy journalism seen in so many other pieces on Kyrgyzstan which simply refer to the American and Russian military bases situated in the country.

    I am married to a Kyrgyz citizen, and have visited the country several times, so would claim to have a little inside knowledge.

    At the moment Russia and its allies are standing to watch as this terrible humanitarian situation unfolds. It is clear that the only way to prevent further escalation of the violence is a Russian intervention. However, the Russians are reluctant, perhaps because there is little political gain to be had from doing so?

    Your comments on Akayev are spot on. The cuurent events stem from the so-called “Tulip Revolution” in 2005, which installed Bakiyev, an immensely corrupt leader, who only appeared concerned with plundering the assets of the country.

    I understand that Maksim Bakiyev has been arrested in the UK. I can only hope that he and his father are one day forced to face trial in Kyrgyzstan for the crimes that have been committed. Asylum should not be offered for this repulsive individual.

  • avatar-singh

    ian Orr-have yopu ever foun=d out about how many ethnic people have the angloamericans killed and how many cultures have they destryed?

    the west did propaganda that Russian during soviet and Czarist time destryed others langauge and ulture and mosque. then how come there are so many varieties still exisiting and thriving in those earst while soviet space? carter was doing propaganda agasint Russians destroying mosque-and destroying muslim seminaries-who is destroying seminaries in afgansitan =today?

    and how come there is such a rich thriving tradition even in Rusia of today of deifferent ethnic people-contrast that with MONOCLUTURE LIKE A CANCER OF THE aNGLOAMERICANS -VIZ IN ENGLAND OR IN USA OR CANADA OR ASURTRALIA.


  • eric andersen

    Thank you, Craig, for the right analysis in C. Asia, please carry on.

    Is not it absurd that Karimov, the butcher is now prraised by UN for his wise policy during the crisis, and he, whose hands are in blood , is now demanding the international inquiery? What about the inquiery of the Andijan events when he ordered to shoot at people (Akaev did not in the similar situation). And now he is obviously trying to get rid of the uzbek refugees, sending them back to Kyrgizstan. Is that true that he is not an Uzbek, but an Iranian? It is not relevant though, but he gives the impression that he hates his own people, even though his notorious daughter, so called the princess of Uzbeks, speaks on behalf of the nation.

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