A spokesman at Kyrgyzstan’s Interior Ministry has acknowledged that only about half of the small arms that went missing during the country’s 2010 political and ethnic violence have been accounted for. The “huge number” of weapons floating about is “enough to carry out another revolution in the country,” believes the chairman of parliament’s defense and security committee.
Bishkek’s 24.kg news agency reported this week that security forces lost about 1,200 small arms and light weapons – including assault rifles, grenade launchers and pistols – during the political violence that unseated President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on April 7, 2010, and during ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in and around Osh that June. (Some reports have said security forces distributed guns and armored vehicles to ethnic Kyrgyz, or at least did little to stop violent gangs from commandeering them.) Though 24.kg’s numbers don’t quite add up, the report says only 49 percent of the 1,177 arms lost have been returned, and authorities fear many of the rest may be available on the black market.
There, an unused Makarov pistol goes for about $1,500; a Kalashnikov (AK-47) for about $1,000; and grenades for a rocket-propelled (RPG) launcher cost between $300 and $500 a pop, says 24.kg. A Dragunov sniper rifle, which can hit a target 800 meters away, costs about $4,000, according to the agency.
As southern Kyrgyzstan marks the second anniversary of ethnic clashes between its Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities, local and international rights activists are concerned about wounds that continue to fester, and what they describe as ongoing discrimination against the Uzbek minority.
Amnesty International released a report June 8 that it says “outlines the failure of the Kyrgyzstani authorities to fairly and effectively investigate the June 2010 violence,” which killed hundreds and displaced hundreds of thousands.
“There are wounds that time will not heal. Truth, accountability and justice are the only tools that will mend the bridges between the two ethnic communities,” Maisy Weicherding of Amnesty said in a statement.
As Amnesty pointed out, during the June 10-14 violence in 2010, both the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities were involved in “killings, looting and rampaging” in and around Osh, but most injuries and deaths were suffered by ethnic Uzbeks.
An internationally led inquiry found that 470 people were killed, 74 percent of whom were Uzbeks. Nevertheless, the inquiry said ethnic Uzbeks were accused of murder over 30 times more often than members of the Kyrgyz community. Bishkek subsequently rejected the findings of that inquiry.
The only member of Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s family to be imprisoned following the ex-president’s bloody 2010 overthrow has gone missing, according to Kyrgyzstan’s penal service.
On March 6, parliament deputies began inquiring about rumors that Akhmat Bakiyev – who was charged with organizing unrest in Jalal-Abad following his brother’s ouster and sentenced to seven years in a high-security penitentiary – had disappeared from a Bishkek hospital. He had been taken to the hospital in late January, after getting transferred to Bishkek’s lower-security Penal Colony No. 35, where he was not required to reside permanently but to check in at regular intervals. According to local press reports, Akhmat Bakiyev’s sentence, which was reduced by about 1.5 years, was due to end in September 2014. The penal service says Bakiyev disappeared a few days ago, though one lawmaker is publicly saying he’s been gone for a month.
Deputy Shirin Aitmatova went to the penal colony to try to find the former first brother. She reports he was actually discharged from the hospital a month ago and argues that Akhmat Bakiyev received some help escaping. He’s long gone by now, she suspects. Some posts from her Twitter feed, translated from Russian:
As explained by the prison warden, the judge issued a ruling on A. Bakiyev’s free movement and the prosecutor didn’t appeal. And here’s the result))
Akhmat Bakiyev was released from the hospital a MONTH ago!
It’s no secret that former Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a fugitive in his own country, has been hiding Belarus. He’s held news conferences there and has even, sources in Minsk tells us, been spotted eating ice cream in the street. Now, if local media are to be believed, he’s a Belorussian citizen, too.
Citing Belorussian portal Tut.by, Russian media report that Bakiyev, in fact, received citizenship back in August 2010, only months after fleeing a bloody mess in the streets of Bishkek.
Belorussian authorities neither confirm nor deny the story, which was based on an anonymous tip. But Lenta.ru reports that a police source said Bakiyev’s name exists in the Belorussian registry of internal passports. According to local protocol, Lenta.ru adds, the decision to confer citizenship would have had to come from President Alexander Lukashenko.
Kyrgyz authorities have nothing to add, but local media outlets are also reporting that Bakiyev has purchased a house outside of Minsk for $2 million. Kyrgyzstan’s yellow, and often vindictive press has made outrageous claims about the former president and his family in the past, however, without much concern for veracity.
Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court has “utterly failed” and given into unfettered ethnic hatred in a case that was “blatantly fabricated,” say international observers, after it upheld a life sentence on bogus charges against an ethnic Uzbek human rights defender.
Azimjan Askarov was found guilty in September 2010 of inciting ethnic violence and complicity in murdering a police officer in his native town of Bazar-Kurgan during the ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks that June. Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Western governments called the charges against Askarov—a prominent human rights defender and journalist in southern Kyrgyzstan—politically motivated and decried the trial as staged, biased and unfair. During the December 20 appeal hearing, the Supreme Court also upheld sentences against seven other Uzbeks (including five life sentences). Uzbeks, Kyrgyzstan’s largest ethnic minority, have faced widely documented intimidation and abuse by authorities since the ethnic bloodletting.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in a December 16 statement urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Askarov conviction, said that maintaining the verdict would be a “major miscarriage of justice.”
Promotional billboards and banners celebrating Kyrgyzstan’s 20th anniversary of independence have offended Kyrgyz nationalists, sparking the kind of violent reaction that is becoming common in the Central Asian nation.
In the southern city of Osh, representatives of the Ak Kyzmat youth organization burned signs they called “anti-ideological,” including a poster depicting Kyrgyz yurts covered with the flags of China, Russia, and the United States. While the photographer responsible for the banner maintained that his image was intended to represent the three great powers he says “keep watch over” Kyrgyzstan, his detractors interpreted the image as degrading.
The protestors also took issue with a banner depicting a foreign tourist surrounded by Kyrgyz, which they argued placed their compatriots in a subservient position.
“It looks like the Kyrgyz are following after him, but I want to point out that the Kyrgyz have always lived on their own and have never depended on anyone,” complained Ak Kyzmat leader Turgunbai Aldakulov. “If the appropriate agencies do not remove the banners, the youth of the city are ready to burn every poster in Osh.”
Eighty-three. That’s the number of men and women who have declared their candidacy for Kyrgyzstan’s presidency. The skeptic might say Bishkek, scene of near-daily protests since ushering out President Kurmanbek Bakiyev last year, is drowning in democracy. And that would not be far from the truth. But Kyrgyzstan is also possibly holding the first presidential election in Central Asian history where the outcome is uncertain.
Registration for aspirants wishing to compete in the October 30 polls ended August 16. Parties nominated only 16 candidates. The rest -- from the “temporarily unemployed” to former military officers and recycled political hacks -- nominated themselves.
Most of us will never learn half their names. A majority of the 83 is expected to drop out before September 25, when campaigning officially begins and candidates must hand over 100,000 soms ($2,250) and 30,000 supporting signatures. All candidates must also pass a live, televised Kyrgyz-language exam.
Observers doubt fresh leadership will emerge from the contest. The most prominent contestants have all enjoyed various stints in recent governments. But for many in Kyrgyzstan, a larger concern is the country’s salient north-south political divide. Exacerbated by Bakiyev’s bloody ouster, that rift is likely to grow wider during elections. Several of the most prominent candidates enjoy strong regional followings and it is unlikely any one can win broad support across the whole country.
Wherever Kamchybek Tashiev goes, mischief seems to follow.
The prominent deputy from the nationalist Ata-Jurt party is widely considered a contender in presidential elections this fall. Now, a criminal suit that he calls politically motivated may test Tashiev’s presidential mettle. Will his crowds of supporters be deterred? Or does their loyalty have little to do with his public image?
Tashiev is charged with "premeditated infliction of significant damage to a person's health,” after allegedly beating up a deputy from his own party. Bakhadyr Suleimanov says he spent several days in a Bishkek hospital with a concussion after Tashiev attacked him late on March 31.
The head of Kyrgyzstan’s boxing federation, Tashiev denies he ever laid a finger on his party-mate. He also insists the charges, including hooliganism, are part of a government conspiracy "to prevent my participation in the presidential elections" scheduled for the fall, he told RFE/RL. Even so, Tashiev has gallantly waived his parliamentary immunity so the investigation can proceed.
Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has voted unanimously to ban the independent news website fergananews.com (formerly Ferghana.ru).
After weeks of heated debate over the causes of last summer’s ethnic violence, lawmakers cast votes on a resolution including the ban, and blaming Uzbek “separatist” leaders for organizing the clashes. Ninety-five approved; none opposed.
The resolution instructed the Ministry of Culture and Information, the Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor General's Office “to take steps to block the site Ferghana.ru in the information space of the republic.”
Moscow-based Ferghana.ru – singled out for offering alternatives to the nationalist narrative that Uzbek separatists are to blame for the tragedy – has been blocked in Kyrgyzstan in the past, just before periods of intense political upheaval, such as immediately preceding the ousters of both Askar Akayev in 2005 and Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2010.
Editor Daniil Kislov called on authorities to act based on the law, not “emotional hostility.”
“It would be very sad to see post-revolutionary Kyrgyzstan on a par with other states that are Internet enemies,” Kislov said in a story on the website.
In the same article, the head of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, Dinara Oshurahunova, said the resolution was a violation of the law, as the legislature has no authority to determine guilt, which is the province of the courts. She also pointed out that the blocking of websites helped precipitate the events that led to Bakiyev’s bloody ouster last year.
International researchers and NGO workers in Kyrgyzstan are starting to wonder if their time is running out.
As Kyrgyzstan’s nationalism metastasizes, foreigners who have studied the ethnic bloodletting last summer – and offered recommendations for how to move the country beyond the threshold of more violence – are under increasing attack from local lawmakers and journalists. (Western commentators and other “outsiders” consider these accounts unbiased; many local politicians brand them pro-Uzbek.) Parliament has unanimously declared one prominent investigator persona non grata for reporting that more Uzbeks died than Kyrgyz.
It seems only a matter of time before the new authorities resurrect censorial former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s blacklist, and begin adding names.
Last week, Human Rights Watch released a damning report describing the widespread torture of Uzbeks since the violence. Police – who are overwhelmingly ethnic Kyrgyz – are rounding up Uzbeks and torturing them to extract confessions, HRW found. Almost no Kyrgyz have been prosecuted for the violence or the aftermath.
HRW and Amnesty – which released similar findings the same day – are Kyrgyzstan’s friends: They are warning that the injustices threaten to spark a new round of violence. Their profession is analyzing comparable situations around the world and they know when a spark can turn into a flame. But the local response is disheartening.