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.

Allowed HTML - you can use: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

69 thoughts on “Kyrgyzstan: Hundreds Dead

1 2 3
  • Michael Petek

    No comments yet, Claig?

    Allow me to be the first. I’ll post the same one I posted on your previous report on Kyrgyzstan. It goes like this.

    Noon, 14 June 2010

    The BBC reports at least 117 people have been killed in three days of fighting between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks. Tens of thousands of Uzbeks have fled to Uzbekistan. Some have accused security forces of failing to stop – or joining in – the attacks.

    No units of Hamas are reported to be in the area.

    The government of Kyrgyzstan was not condemned at the United Nations for its disproportionate use of force, and no emergency meeting of the Security Council has been convened.

    In Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan did not warn Kyrgyztan that it risked losing Turkey’s friendship for its illegal acts of force against innocent civilians. In several cities of the Middle East, not so much as a single f***ing mouse was seen on the streets burning the Kyrgyz flag and calling for the destruction of Kyrgystan.

    Meanwhile, the Turkish organisation IHH did not comment on whether a humanitarian aid convoy would be sent to give any assistance to the beleaguered Uzbeks.

    However, our correspondent was able to speak to celebrity journalist Borat Sagdiev at his home in neighbouring Kazakhstan. Denying that he had any connection with Jewish comedian Sascha Baron Cohen, he said, “In my country we do not give two-kopeck toss about Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. We only pick on yids and kikes because they are children of apes and pigs.”

  • MS

    Oh for God’s sake Michael Petek will you stop hijacking every thread in this blog with your provocative nonsense!Or at least go post this rubbish on the Israel topics.

  • Arsalan

    When people did condemn it Micheal Petek and the other Zionist Nazi bastards didn’t shout Antisemitism!!!!

    Or should that be, AntiKyrgyzism?

  • Arsalan

    There were other threads where this was mentioned, But because you and the other Nazis didn’t invade, it was about the country at hand and not the Nazi state of Israel.

  • MS

    Re. Craig’s post:

    I actually look forward to your opinion on these Central Asian issues,since as you said no on else seems to be talking about it with any real inside knowledge – so thanks for that.

    You don’t mention Khazakhstan,I wonder what role it has in the region,in connection with the other countries.

    There was an article on some tabloid the other day about some billionaire Khazak socialite called Goga something,have you heard about her?Would she be the Khazak equivalent of a Russian oligarch or would she be a power player in the region?Or not!

  • Paul

    It is amazing how this part of the world, and central and eastern Russia too, is seen almost as a blank space on the map from a western media perspective. They might as well report ‘here be dragons’ and have done with it.

    For example, until a year or so ago I had never heard of the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic. Yet its land area is only a little bit less than India. (Admittedly its population is less than Wales.)

    I originally bought ‘Murder in Samarkand’ for that reason: it was about a part of the world you seldom hear about.

    I also found this on the web some time ago – about endangered peoples, cultures and languages that came under the control of the former USSR:

    ‘The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire’

  • Redders


    I suspect the problem is the global noise and the incredibly complicated relationships between the Central Eastern countries. Most of the public only has an attention span able to deal with a couple of newsworthy items per week. So when they hear of soldiers being killed in Afghanistan then the Israelis up to something then the latest twists and turns of the global downturn, elections, condemnation of nulabour etc. by the time something comes on the TV about Central Asia or they stumble across a few column inches in a broadsheet, they are swamped with information already.

  • Michael Petek

    Craig, maybe you can answer me this.

    How close ethnically and linguistically are the Kyrgyz and the Uzbeks?

  • Martin

    Kyrgyzstan: Hundreds Dead

    “The sad fact is that any posting about Central Asia sees my visitor figures plummet…”

    Crikey, Craig. There was me thinking that THE sad fact was the number of people who have died….?

  • Richard Robinson

    I second MS, I welcome your knowledge of these things; especially since it is stuff that, as you say, not many people want to go into. Partly because … well, it seems odd. Afghanistan is so vital to the UK that we send our armed forces there to kill & be killed, and yet just over the border is back-of-beyond, no possible connection to us, who cares ? And partly just because it’s a pleasure to read people talking sensibly about what they actually know. It’s interesting, and aids understanding.

    I know the way that anyone who runs a website naturally feels concerned to have people want to read it, but, as you say, you can please yourself. You don’t actually need to compete with the commercial interests, only cover what they consider commercially worthwhile. To be talking about things that few others are, can be an advantage as well ? Certainly it’s one of the things I come here for.

    (Arsalan, *please* don’t let yourself be so easily tempted ? Anyone who feels like derailing the conversation only has to get up your nose and you do their work for them).

  • rob

    Craig, thanks for these articles. By and large I read them with interest and not a little despondency but as I am in no position to add anything useful I say nothing. But please don’t stop: you’re one of the few sources where more we can see than the shallowest of news.

  • Jon

    Agreed, Richard.

    Thanks for the post Craig. Regarding the relative number of comments depending on the topic, I have noticed this before. Issues to do with Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan are hot-button topics perhaps, in part at least, because progressives in the West feel responsible for them, insofar as they have some theoretical connection to their violent governments; the resultant critical commentary then sets up a vacuum that their ideological counterparts try to counteract.

    But on issues such as this one, “we” the West have less connection to, and (as far as is generally known) our governments are not directly responsible for the violence. We are less connected to the situation, and sadly, we have had our fill of bad news already. That’s not to excuse ignorance – just a reflection of the human condition, I think.

    But thanks for posting it. It is good to learn.

  • Mike

    Thanks Craig – most people don’t know where anywhere is until it has been inavaded by USA or 100’s die in anatural or other disaster – they then forget what they”learned” within 4 weeks.

    Sad but true

  • Richard Robinson

    Also, perhaps – number of comments in a thread isn’t necessarily a measure of how worthwhile they are. The ‘hot-button’ topics attract a lot of distraction & gibberish.

  • grayslady

    Back in the late 1990s, a friend of mine spent 6 weeks in Andijian on an IESC assignment. The people were incredibly kind to him, and his stories are the most fascinating of any of his international assignments. The company he was consulting for has disappeared, and there is no longer any way for him to find out what happened to his friends.

    The physical isolation of the Fergana Valley seems to have bred a very independent people. The people he met were mostly Muslim–but they drank alcohol! They practiced the sort of courtesy to visitors that is rarely seen anymore: complete strangers would insist that my friend share their meal at restaurants, even though these were people with very little for themselves.

    My friend described a remarkable culture, so, personally, I’m fascinated by what you have to write on the subject, Craig.

  • it is unfortunate

    craig, you are right on the money. it is so true what you said and it is very unfortunate that we as humanity not what we try to show. I am completely disgusted with the fact that IA Karimov has not shown a tidbit of compassion to his own kind. it is completely unacceptable.

  • AlexNo

    Thanks for explaining the relationship of Bakiyev to all this. It was evident that as the disturbances emerged in his area, he must have something to do with it. Presumably the Uzbeks are supporting Otunbayeva precisely because she is not Bakiyev.

  • Vronsky

    Just because we don’t comment on a topic doesn’t mean we’re less interested – just less informed (speaking for myself at least) and that’s what you’re trying to correct, n’est-ce pas?. Continue – silence means we’re listening.

  • Richard Robinson has some coverage … there appear to be reports of lots of people crossing the ‘officially-closed’ border into Uzbekistan, and then seemingly that U’stan has opened the border. Dated yesterday (13th), but hard to be sure because it’s in Russian, which I don’t understand.

  • Jeremy Hartley

    Craig. The reason why I never comment on your posts about Central Asia is because I know so little about it. In this way you kind of have the final word.

    Whenever something happens in that region, I always turn to your blog for some insightful comment. So please don’t worry about the lack of comments, and please carry on posting about this fascinating region.

  • mrjohn

    The situation is becoming very ugly, with talk of axes and bodies in the streets. Russia needs to step in.

  • Tristan

    Another thanks for your posting on these issues.

    If it weren’t for your blogging I wouldn’t be aware of these issues at all, which is a sorry state of affairs as you say, but at least there are voices.

  • Mae

    I also read your pieces on Central Asian topics with interest but very little up-to-date knowledge. I grew up with various Soviet people, including Central Asian ones, mostly soldiers (riding along for practice runs in Soviet Army tanks, that sort of thing), and read the classics detailing the brutal conquest of non-Russian peoples under the tzars, but their continuing oppression within the USSR was not part of my education. On the contrary, the Soviet Union was presented as the perfect example of many different peoples striving towards a common goal of happiness and wealth (or some such).

    I come here to get not just the bare facts that I was never taught, but also connections and backgrounds, motivations and reasons for what goes on. Main stream media traditionally ignores conflicts outwith our area and culture and continues to do so today unless some European/ American connection is found, and until I know more there is nothing much I can say yet, I mean who are the bad guys? Why are they killing? Is it a repeat of Yugoslavia’s self-destruct? Do they hate each other? All the time? Why is Russia not interested? As you see, I have more questions than answers let alone opinions on this topic. So write on, please, Craig, and trust that your words reach more people than you know about.

  • Laura

    Another one who enjoys reading these posts but doesn’t comment because I don’t have anything to say. Although being a slight C. Asia nerd (albeit to count as a Central Asia nerd pretty much all you need to be able to do is identify all the countries on maps!). But really enjoy the posts! Got some questions on this one though:

    – Don’t the Americans have a bunch of bases in Kyrgyzstan? How does that affect things there and are they getting involved at all?

    – Why do the southern Kyrgyz like Bakiyev so much? Has he been channeling patronage to the region?

    On the clans though, I wonder if people really don’t know which clan people put them in. They might not put it in so many words, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there – it may just take regional form or be known but not talked of until it becomes a split – similar to how in many of Africa’s ‘ethnic’ wars, people say they didn’t know they were of a different ethnicity until someone showed up at their door with a machete. I think it’ll take a while and some research before we really know the answer on this one.

    Another point worth making is that although Central Asia is generally a blur on the map, the same is true of a lot of Africa – but because a few countries get covered, and people assume it’s all the same, people don’t notice – but the number of people who could tell you anything about Chad, Niger or Burundi is probably fairly similar to the number who could tell you about Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan. We need to look at Tajikstan more though – that’s where the drugs come through.

    Also: with June on the pipelines!

1 2 3

Comments are closed.