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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  • Anonymous

    ‘Why is Russia not interested?’

    They are very interested. A big part is keeping the EU under their control, (all to do with another pipeline you could say).

  • Leo

    I second what Rob said above.

    I read every post and appreciate your information & point of view on almost any topic, but on ones like this I don’t have much to say back.

    I also tend to read your posts in an RSS reader without actually visiting the site unless I want to read or write comments. So if I don’t say anything or don’t feel like seeing what other people said then you won’t see a page hit from me even though I read the whole article. I bet others using RSS readers are the same.

    Of course, there’s also the effect of which articles people share.

    Anyway, ignore the page hits and just write about what you know and what you want to say. I’m sure enough of us read everything even if it doesn’t look like it.

    I appreciate finding out about things I didn’t know about and it’s good to build up knowledge of all the places that fit our supposed reasons for invading Iraq/Afghanistan and yet get ignored because the humanitarian/terrorism reasons are just covers and excuses for wars about regional control and resources.

  • Neil Barker

    The Zionists are trying to destabilize the entire area. I can very, very easily post a picture to “prove” it.

  • Arsalan

    Neil Barker you are right.

    Islom Karimov is a rabid Zionist and he does destabilise the entire area.

  • Arsalan

    The Zionist Islom Karimov boiling people to death regulerly causes Uzbecks to go to naughbering countries. This causes ethnic strife.

    The solution is to remove the Zionist Islom Karimov who boils people alive, while we are at it we may as well remove the other nasty dictators who use more humane ways of killing people than boiling people alive. Then reunite central Asia, as it should be, because those countries were created by the russians to dvide and rule.

  • glenn

    Thanks for this post – I’d be interested in hearing more. When these reports began to appear on the news, they were extremely vague about what was going on and even more so about why. At the time, I hoped your blog would be discussing it.

    I still don’t understand why this has turned so violent, so quickly. Why is there such tension between the groups – old feuds? Is poverty being blamed on the Uzbeks as a convenient scapegoat?

  • Matt Keefe

    I concur with your transliteration of the short ‘i’ in ??????????, but why the ‘gh’ instead of just ‘g’? Is ? pronounced akin to the Arabic ghayn there?

  • Matt Keefe

    These events are being reported on Radio 5Live right now – will be on Listen Again shortly. Shall I post a link?

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Thanks, Craig, for the overview. That was very helpful. It looks as though it’s the usual story with rich, powerful corrupt oligarchs sowing discord and provocateur incidents in order to construct a convenient scapegoat.

    As with Yugoslavia (1940s and 1990s) and South Asia (1947, 1971 and since, in waves in various places) and many other such fratricidal blood-letting orgies, these leaders and their henchmen set it up and light the touch-paper but in the end, one has to face the truth that most of the time it’s ordinary people who pull the axe off the wall and kill. Neighbours killing neighbours for greed, in madness, in lust, for land, for power. The worst aspects of the human condition, manifest.

    Meanwhile, like the gods of Olympus, the bastard oligarchs are laughing and whoring in Moscow-London-Minsk-wherever and are sipping cognac as they nudge their chess-pieces from one square to the next.

    “Bravo!” they shout, “Bravo!”

  • Ishmael

    Keep posting those articles. Some articles which fall outwith people’s ability to comment will receive a lesser discussion. I see what is happening is important, and we should follow events, and the near term outcome. Matters like this in that region are very serious indeed.

  • Sauti Ndogo

    Thanks for this Craig. Over the weekend I had naively blogged my surprise at Russia’s failure to jump at the chance to send “fraternal assistance” in the form of peacekeeping troops. You’ve explained that nicely.

    Spelling: My guess is that, being heavily Russified, ???? ????????? is happy to have her name rendered in Latin script as Roza Otunbayeva. She was personally tweeting during the April revolution, so we could check how she signed her tweets.

  • Mae

    Der Spiegel Online reports that Kyrgyzstan’s army has arrested several snipers and agents provocateur who had targeted and murdered both Kirghiz and Uzbeks, thereby successfully increasing the existing tensions between the two peoples to breaking point and beyond.,1518,700560,00.html

    (link is in German, not yet available in English)

  • glenn

    Vronsky: Monbiot’s article is interesting, but not entirely accurate. The tea-baggers did not start with that shill Santelli – that was just the first public call of an operation that had been planned for some time. Look at Dick Armey with his “Freedomworks” organisation, which is entirely about making corporate aims appear to be grass-roots movements. “Astro-turfing” is the phrase which describes this phenomenon.

    The idea that teabaggers are on the whole better educated and more wealthy than the average citizen is a highly dubious claim. Polls apparently provide this “fact”. Far more likely is that teabaggers lie when asked such questions.

    Monbiot fails to mention the sheer racism at the heart of the teabaggers’ apparent popularity. You do not find many outside the podgy, white and generally retired in the crowds. They are outraged that a black man is in the Whitehouse. The teabaggers are basically semi house-trained Klan members.

    Anyway, the “success” of the teabaggers is that they get enormous coverage, with Faux News leading the effort. The media will lie shamelessly about the popularity of their rallies, with multi-millionaire news anchors showing pictures of entirely different rallies in order to claim a great turnout.

    A fleet of $500K buses pick up teabaggers to whip them off to a rally. Most are unemployed or retired, and have nothing better to do. None question who is paying for it all. All are too stupid to realise who’s interests they serve, and spout idiocies such as “Keep your government hands off my [government provided] Medicare!”

    Since it is in the corporate interest to do so, MSM, republicans and lobbyists will pretend this is a groundswell of opinion that must be listened to. A successful movement? No – it’s simply a bunch of useful idiots for corporations and the very wealthy.


    Now – imagine that another group had the same set of tactics, but this time they didn’t happen to be demanding the interests of corporate America be met in full. This article gives a good contrast to the “success” of the teabaggers, should it be tried:

  • anno

    Thanks for the background information Craig.

    Suddenly it becomes clearer why it makes, to use a big word well beyond my own comprehension, strategic sense to the US and UK to entrench themselves in Afghanistan. These US bases in Kyrghistan wouldn’t be useful for stirring up ethnic tensions, as in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, would they?

    Bitch-erection Tony Blair is posing tonight as herald of an Israeli lifting of the Gaza blockade. The MSM have smelt the hormones, but when the terms and conditions in the small print start to emerge, we will see that TB’s position is just: ‘Gaza, are you ready to give up Hamas and give in, yet, or do we have to launch another round of phosphor bombs?’

    He’ll put his wages for wafting his swollen doggy hormones to a good cause, promoting the work of God, which I seem to remember from last time was launching overwhelming lethal force against Islam and Muslims. New Labour needed only to assist in his prosecution for war crimes to have won the last general election. Now they are forever tainted by his blood.

  • nextus

    Thanks once again for the expert briefing on an much-neglected region of the world, Craig. I agree that most people switch off when they hear about events in Central Asia: they just can’t relate to it.

    As it happens, I found it near impossible to get politically-minded activists to read Murder in Samarkand, even though they would have been appalled and fascinated by the contents – I think the main problem was the obscurity of the title. Murders happen everywhere and nobody I’d met had ever heard of Samarkand (few had even heard of Uzbekistan!). They failed to pick up on the relevance to their cause; the implicit response was “Why should I care?”. And yet in that book you exposed New Labour’s complicity in torture and offered hard evidence of their reprehensible smear tactics. Fascinating stuff, astutely presented.

    The same problem afflicted the Radio play. The name ‘David Tennant’ was the principal hook – as indeed you were well aware.

    I thought that “Dirty Diplomacy” was in some ways a catchier title, but it was a little too generic. I’m sure there could have been a more pertinent label.

    I look forward to your next book, because you are a fabulous writer: gripping, honest and always incisive. But next time, I hope the marketing angle will be considered more closely. It would help to march under a banner that people can relate to.

  • Mae

    anno – and closer to home, thanks to him and his pals, we have a new blasphemy law that makes sentencing a guy to six months in prison possible for the heinous crime of leaving mild anti-religious cartoons in an airport chapel at John Lennon airport in Liverpool.

    (It doesn’t make it any better that the sentence was commuted to a two year suspended one – the cartoons were from Private Eye, for goodness sake…)

  • henry

    Craig, your take is often spot-on, but your use of the concept “democracy” is just a waste of time. There’s no point in identifying this faction as more democratic than that. I’m not saying they’re all the same. Relative to their rivals, some factions certainly aim to establish, or already possess, regimes that are in a different brutality league altogether.

    What I am saying is that politics is always about one thing first and foremost. Money.

    On the Murray seven-year rule, I immediately thought of Bernie Ecclestone and Tony Blair in 1997.

    Interesting what you say about Kirghiz people not being as “clannish” as “western universities” think. (That’s a funny way of spelling SIS’s little place down at SOAS by the way!)


  • avatar singh

    Instead of blaming Russia(and Putin-) craig please think what the angloamericans would have done?in similar situation? U.S. relations with Russia have been horrendously bad ever since Putin threw out the oligarchs and decided not to take dictation from either Washington or London. the anglos who have no business to be in central asia would have jumped at the invitqation of kyrgigh president to intervene-but Russia refused to do so though Russia has everyw reason to be involved there because itis next to Russia and is part of soviet heritage. when angloamericans can jump at any chance to put their dirty nose into others business then Russia has more legitimacy to interfere in neighbours affairs-though it does nto do so much as anglos have done -in fact it has not done one thenthh of what =interfereing angloamericans have done.

    now what is all this about britian being the first call of refuse by all the world dictator who want to depsoit their money in british controlled sham islandsd -but money stau=ys in london only-for ever.?

    Kyrgyzstan says ex-president’s son detained in Britain

    Topic: Political crisis in Kyrgyzstan

  • Henry

    I wonder whether when analysing Finland, “western universities” get it the other way round with clannishness? Finnish people tend to be more conscious of belonging to one of the Finnish “tribes” (Ostrobothnians etc.) than is often believed.


  • anno

    Mild blasphemy.

    Next time, I’ll put a couple of drops of pee in your pint. Cheers!

  • avatar singh

    Craig ofcourse I donto know anything even one teth as well as you do and more so about the central asia-here is my two pence for what it is worth.

    we know that central asdia was a centre of a great warrior king timur empire and was even before very much a rich prosperous place before gehnkhej khan destoryed a=many of kingdoms there .but even before the turks became muslims the central asia was a great centre of budhism as far early as 100 Bc and more so during king kaniska.

    so it was a strange mixt of warrior like people who becamse great traders and businessmen as well. during budhist period many of the central asian people had direct concnetion with budhist India not only in religion but in familail affinity -many bussiness men of silk route were of Indian extraction.

    If we go r=further then we get the expmlanation of what STAN means. In hindu India you find many places called Sthan especially holy places; even the name of India being called HIndustan meaning place of hindus .

    Sthan is a sansrik word which means place(abode)similar to varta like aryavarta meaning india as a place of aryan tribes.or even ariana in afgansitan.

    or hindustan as place of hindus -as understood by foreiners like muslims

    so the word stahn is one of the proof-of many -that sankrit speaking Indian people had be en at that place at one time. especially if you consider that afgansitan was alwys a part of Indian culture an d the rest of central asia was culturally divided amosnt two aryan(sanskrit langauge type speakers) people -viz iran and India.(before HUn ,mongol , turkish and like people came there.

    anyway coming from this origin of stan -the whole warrior like action of the people there proves one point in the spread of civilisation-that the tough warriors when in the mountains drive down the low land people and then they become soft and civilzed to be taken over by another tough minded warrior people.and so it goes on. sad.

  • Syd Walker

    I agree with those who’ve pointed out that paucity of comments doesn’t necessarily indicate lack of interest.

    I visited this site today specifically looking for intelligent coverage of the current fracas in Kyrgyzstan.

    I tend to comment on articles when I feel I know enough about a topic to make an useful contribution to the discussion. That usually requires some level of prior knowledge; my main factoid about Kyrgyzstan, until now, being its extensive natural walnut forests.

  • Richard Robinson

    “extensive natural walnut forests.”

    Hey, a new factoid ! Thanks, Syd.

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