Kyrgyzstan: April 7 Memorial Morphs into Political Rally
This week, across Kyrgyzstan, people stopped to remember the bloodshed that led to the collapse of Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s administration a year ago. Rallies, sporting events and concerts reminded everyone of the difficult year that has passed. But lawmakers were unable to resist politicizing the memorial.
Amid a bevy of political party banners, representatives of the governing Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), led by Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev and President Roza Otunbayeva, attended an official government ceremony with singing, dancing and a minute of silence on the main Ala-Too Square.
One block away, the SDPK’s erstwhile allies who are now in opposition held a separate rally -- complete with their own parties’ flags, anthems and rousing speeches. The opposition event sounded more like the beginning of a presidential campaign than a solemn commemoration for the 89 people killed during the April events last year. With music booming from buses festooned with their parties’ banners, supporters of Ata-Meken’s Omurbek Tekebayev and Ak-Shumkar’s Temir Sariyev marched behind their leaders, waving large red and blue flags, into the official government commemoration. Stealing the media spotlight briefly, the opposition leaders paid their respects from the sideline, while the president sat under a white tent with her political allies. Representatives of different factions in the crowd taunted each other a bit, but the memorial proceeded peacefully.
At both rallies, the crowd included men and women wearing pins designating them “heroes of the April popular revolution,” a controversial award given last fall to several hundred people for their participation in the uprising.
In a sign of just how politically split the country remains a year after the uprising, leaders of the nationalist party that holds the most seats in parliament, Ata-Jurt, appeared at neither rally, although it is a member of the government’s governing coalition. One local reporter joked that party representatives did not attend the memorial “because it’s not their holiday” – alluding to the fact that many in the party’s leadership had served in Bakiyev’s administration.
Atambayev used the occasion to warn that Bakiyev’s supporters, some inside parliament, are plotting against the new government. One of Ata-Jurt’s leaders, Kamchybek Tashiev, is seen, for the moment, as a likely contender to run against Atambayev in the presidential election slated for this fall. Observers attribute many of the country’s most pernicious divisions to these various factions squaring off to make a presidential bid.
Reflecting the enduring tension in Kyrgyzstan, on April 8, a youth movement sponsored a commemoration of a different sort in Bishkek’s Sports Palace: an ultimate fighting tournament. Proceeds from the event – basically a series of anything-goes fistfights – will go to help athletes injured last year, with a portion also going toward the restoration of commercial properties and government buildings damaged in the uprising, an organizer said.
The idea of memorializing the April events of last year with what is tantamount to an orgy of violence received a sharp rebuke from some local media outlets. A scathing commentary on 24.kg lamented, “It is a pity, but Kyrgyzstan often looks like an arena for ultimate fighting.”
“How did the initiators of such a requiem end up with so much cruelty in their hearts and so little reason in their minds?” the commentary asked. “How will the relatives of the deceased feel when their loved ones are commemorated by one person oppressing and beating another? Or has this already become the norm for the rebellious republic?”
That commentary appeared the same week that Tashiev, the likely presidential contender, was twice accused of using his fists to solve disputes in parliament.
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