Usually Kyrgyzstan’s politicians kiss up to Moscow. So it’s peculiar when one says something that looks (if anyone is looking) deliberately designed to provoke the Kremlin.
Russia must pay billions for its “Kyrgyz genocide” 95 years ago, says Nurlan Motuyev, one of Kyrgyzstan’s 83 presidential candidates in the upcoming October 30 polls. Motuyev – nicknamed the “coal king” for allegedly seizing a profitable mine during political unrest in 2005 – has reemerged on something of a pro-Islam ticket and seems to be looking for an enemy. While usually China or the United States make easy, anodyne targets, Motuyev is pointing a finger, according to an account in the Kyrgyz press, at Russia.
Back in 1916, as the Russian Empire was losing World War I in Europe, the Tsar attempted to draft non-Slavs into the army. Rebellion, which the Russians brutally suppressed, broke out in the distant provinces of Central Asia. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands were killed or died fleeing over the mountains to China. Hushed up throughout the Soviet era, today the episode is commemorated as Urkun (“exodus”).
Genocide is a strong word, as Kyrgyzstan knows well from the global opprobrium following last year’s bout of ethnic violence in the south. That was not genocide either, but the word – bandied about in press reports – stung many Kyrgyz who still feel the international community has unfairly judged them.
Motuyev shows his true intentions when he puts a price on the so-called genocide of 1916. A tidy figure will wash away Russia’s guilt, he says: $100 billion, about 20 times the size of Kyrgyzstan’s economy. And just in case Moscow ignores his demands, “do not forget that in addition to the official authorities in Kyrgyzstan there are many disgruntled people."
Several of the initial 83 candidates have already dropped out and many more will be unable to collect enough signatures, cash or vocabulary to make it onto the ballot (a televised Kyrgyz-language exam is mandatory). Before then, election season will certainly unearth other batty proposals. Motuyev’s, hopefully, is not a “Russophobic race card,” as one Bishkek paper warns, but one of many far-fetched (and, knock wood, harmless) ideas to spew forth from a shrinking brood of publicity seekers.