A girl cools off in Bishkek’s central Ala-Too Square on Saturday. Getting drenched in the city’s fountains is a favorite summer pastime for kids in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, though this one seems to have gotten wetter than she’d bargained for.
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.
Central Asia’s mountainous borderlands have seen their third bizarre mass murder this summer, this time in Kyrgyzstan.
Police say a border guard conscript in Kyrgyzstan’s eastern Issyk-Kul Province killed four contract border guards and a civilian before fleeing in a stolen car on August 20. Early the following morning security forces killed the suspect, identified as 19-year-old Balbai Kulbarak uulu, in a mountain gorge near the Kazakh frontier, Reuters reported.
The state border service, part of the State Committee on National Security (the GKNB, which is often still called the KGB), said Kulbarak uulu was killed after firing at authorities.
Kulbarak uulu had been hostile to his colleagues the day before the killings, said the Military Prosecutor’s office. The five dead at the Echkili-Tash outpost included the post commander and the wife of one serviceman. Three guards managed to escape.
Mass murders are uncommon in Central Asia, at least prior to this summer.
Public perceptions of corrupt deals involving the Manas air base outside Kyrgyzstan’s capital helped bring down President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2010. This week, Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov became the latest Kyrgyz leader to be tarnished by accusations of mischief at Manas.
On August 13, a member of Babanov’s parliamentary coalition charged the embattled premier with accepting a bribe from a Turkish company building a new air-traffic control tower at Manas. Joomart Saparbayev, a deputy with the Ata-Meken Party, told a party meeting that Babanov had accepted a racehorse valued at up to $1.3 million in exchange for a multi-million-dollar Pentagon contract.
Saparbayev’s argument: "We thought about how these events could be linked, and we have found a corrupt scheme. This horse was given to Babanov as a gift so that the Turkish company could carry out the construction work," Saparbayev said, adding that the English-bred horse, five-year-old Islander One, arrived on an Istanbul-Bishkek flight.
“I’ll be the first corpse,” says Sveta Filatova when asked about initiatives to terminate Kyrgyzstan’s methadone programs. A heroin addict for 10 years, Filatova has been taking the opioid substitute for three and says it’s changed her life, enabled her to reconnect with family, and hold a job.
Newlyweds in post-Soviet Central Asia hold some traditions especially dear. Before gathering with friends and family for the big feast, a wedding party will likely hit their city’s hot spots, stopping at scenic parks and important monuments (often including a WWII memorial) for a toast, a photo session, and maybe a quick dance. Their procession of cars, festooned with ribbons and often led by a hired limo, will race around town, usually getting no more than a wink from the sympathetic traffic police.
Saturdays are popular wedding days in Osh, with several parties descending on the same park, enjoying music piped in from a nearby café. Here, a few Saturdays ago, a bride celebrates in a park named for Alimbek Datka, a local 19th-century feudal lord.
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.
Think Skype is a secure way to make a call? Think again. That smartphone in your pocket? It could be a portable bug. And the camera on your laptop screen? You might consider covering it with duct tape.
Ask an ethnic Kyrgyz in the cramped village of Tash-Tumshuk what country he lives in and he will reply confidently, “Kyrgyzstan.” Shout over the mud-brick fence to the ethnic Tajik next door and he will, with equal conviction, say he lives in Tajikistan, in a village called Hojа Alo.
For over 20 years now, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the two poorest republics to emerge from the Soviet Union, have failed to agree on the location of their border in the most densely populated parts of the Ferghana Valley.
Comrade Lenin was happy where he stood for 35 years. Then city authorities built a stadium directly in his line of site. Within a year, so disappointed by the local football team’s losses, Vladimir Ilyich couldn’t take it anymore, and got up and moved downriver.
So go the jokes in Khujand, formerly Leninabad, to explain why officials moved Central Asia’s tallest statue of the Bolshevik revolutionary in May 2011 from a central square to a patch of weeds where cows graze by the Syr Darya River. He was replaced by a statue of Ismail Somoni, a proto-Tajik 10th-century king.
He’s still the tallest Lenin in Central Asia, however, at 12.5 meters with a new 12.5-meter pedestal, just like the old one. (Except without the marble facing and nameplate.)
To placate some locals upset by the move, a new story is making the rounds: The cow fields and industrial wasteland surrounding Lenin’s new spot will be turned into a large park.
**UPDATE (July 26): The Ministry of Social Development has stopped all international adoption agencies from working in Kyrgyzstan, for now. According to a July 26 Vecherny Bishkek report, which includes a list of the agencies, four have been banned due to "grave violations." Six others have been suspended for two months.
Kids in Kyrgyzstan’s state childcare institutions are again at the center of the country’s lackluster war on corruption. Though a long-standing moratorium on international adoption in Kyrgyzstan was lifted last year, authorities seem bent on bringing it back after the high-profile arrest of a minister involved in the process.
The moratorium was originally instituted in February 2009 because of corruption in the adoption system and reasonable fears children were not being protected. (The campaign later drew sensationalist coverage in press reports, which played on fears of "Americans harvesting our children's organs”). Despite repeated promises to prospective parents to lift the ban, it dragged on because of chaos in government. For at least 65 American families who had already started the adoption process, the freeze left dozens of children in limbo for years. A fair number had congenital illnesses and needed treatment in the West. Some died waiting.