Some articles appearing in Kyrgyzstan's media these days are hateful and obnoxious. But then sometimes there are views that are so barking mad as to tip from intolerant to plain ludicrous. The problem is, in Kyrgyzstan's tense environment, delusion and denial could foment more unrest.
Step forward political "expert" Talant Razzakov, who was interviewed by AKIpress news agency about the independent international report into the ethnic bloodshed in Osh last summer.
Clearly disappointed with not finding enough to be disgruntled with, Razzakov has compromised it by simply concocting patent nonsense about a nebulous first draft of the Kyrgyz Inquiry Commission (KIC) report released May 3.
KIC team leader Kimmo Kiljunen categorically stated that there was no qualification for describing the violence in Osh as a genocide, but Razzakov claims that terminology was in fact used in the initial version of the report: "I have read the first printed version and the main idea was like that. But then members of the commission denied that they had written the report."
Several weeks ago, mere rumors the word had been used by foreigners to describe the tragedy drew a a protest outside the parliament and the UN.
Kyrgyz news agency 24.kg earlier this week began disclosing portions of an independent international inquiry into the ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan last summer.
On April 29, Russian daily Kommersant followed up with its own story based on a leaked copy of the report. This article repeats much of what came before, but makes a couple of notable departures.
According to the newspaper, the report explains that the interim government that took power after the April 7 unrest only controlled the north of the country. It was thus forced to rely on Uzbeks in the south to squeeze out supporters of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a process that culminated in the overtly political unrest in Jalal-Abad in the middle of May. Summarizing the report, Kommersant comments: "So the political confrontation between the new government and supporters of the ousted president turned into an ethnic conflict between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks."
It is this kind of finding that already has some up in arms, like parliamentarian Ismail Isakov. According to 24.kg's accounts of the leaked report, the international investigation criticizes Isakov, who was the interim government's special representative in southern Kyrgyzstan and took over security operations during the unrest, for failing to dispatch forces "with clear orders and rules of engagement."
When a mayor in southern Kyrgyzstan hires "sportsmen" as his advisers, it isn't generally because he is determined to improve the health of his fellow citizens.
Melis Myrzakmatov, the virulently nationalist mayor of Osh, has appointed 15 coaches at local sporting clubs in the city as his advisers, 24.kg news agency reported April 21.
Moreover, Myrzakmatov has given sports clubs about $1,000 each out of the official budget, supposedly to help prepare for the 6th Republican Sports Olympiad to be held in Osh this year. Fifteen sportsmen have also been given cash tokens worth more than $5,100 to pay for university tuition.
Osh was the center of interethnic violence between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities last June that left hundreds dead.
24.kg cites Myrzakmatov as noting that despite the tragic events in Osh in 2010, this year will see only peace and serenity, and that fine achievements will be accomplished in the fields of culture, sports and public affairs.
What do you call suspiciously timed information that undercuts an anticipated event? Could it be propaganda?
In Kyrgyzstan's parliament, a deputy from the nationalist Ata-Jurt faction alleges that a new book – that only she has seen – claims Kyrgyz massacred Uzbeks in last summer’s ethnic violence. Her story, as these things generally are, is hard to follow. In widely reported comments from April 19, Jyldyz Joldosheva rants against the publication of The Hour of the Jackal, by “rich Uzbek nationalists.”
"According to my information, rich Uzbek nationalists gathered $2 million to release the book. It was distributed around the world for free." she said, according to Kloop.kg. Unfortunately, we have only a single copy in our country." Presumably, she has the only copy.
That no other copies have surfaced is hard to explain since, Joldosheva says, 400,000 free copies (about one for every family in Kyrgyzstan) have been floating around Russia for a “month.” An English version will be released “soon.”
Then she adds, mysteriously, “According to my information, the book is published in Finland, but this fact must also be checked.”
Kyrgyzstan’s politicians are no poster boys for a parliamentary system of governance. The country’s ruling coalition was already shaky before two feral members bloodied each other at an April 1 session of the national legislature. And the mayhem that dominated the day – including not just the brawl but a fiery speech by the recently sacked prosecutor general and a mysterious intervention into lawmakers’ work by unidentified thugs in tracksuits – does not bode well for stability in the violence-racked country.
Prior to the fight, ex-Prosecutor General Kubatbek Baibolov, fired a day earlier, defended himself before the deputies against allegations that his family members had improperly profited off the scandal-clad nationalization of Kyrgyzstan’s largest mobile services provider, Megacom. In his speech, he accused Deputy Prime Minister Omburbek Babanov, leader of the Respublika Party, and others of illegally profiting from the deal.
One of them was Babanov’s long-time detractor Kamchybek Tashiev, whose powerful Ata-Jurt party belongs to the rickety three-party ruling coalition, which also includes Respublika. This time, Tashiev warned, if Babanov wasn’t properly investigated, Ata-Jurt would abandon the coalition, leaving the government to crumble. Because the threat was not Ata-Jurt’s first, one of Babanov’s allies told Tashiev, in no uncertain terms, to clam up and get out if he wanted to. Unprintable words and fisticuffs ensued.
Dilbar, who’s in her 50s, but looks closer to 70, wants her son’s decapitated body back. She says she wants to give him a proper burial. She’s seen the corpse, recognized his birthmarks, tattoos and a scar on his buttocks left behind by a childhood accident. But the Osh authorities won’t return him, she says, claiming they cannot get a close enough DNA match. (Fingerprints are not an option, as his hands are missing, too.)
Together with 20 or 30 others who lost relatives to the interethnic clashes last June, Dilbar is picketing the parliament in Bishkek. The scene is both heart-rending and infuriating: The grief of the bereaved is layered with political slogans,some of them taped to the fence behind them. But whose slogans are they? The families’? Or the political groups’ vying for dominance in the country’s shaky ruling coalition?
Dilbar and her fellow protesters, mostly ethnic Kyrgyz from the south of the country, are demanding that authorities return their loved ones’ bodies, punish those responsible for the violence, which left over 400 dead, and provide more compensation. A billboard-size, full-color banner hanging from the metal fence shows photos of 65 mutilated corpses, headlined “Innocent Kyrgyz who were brutally killed during the Osh Events.”
By implication, the killers were Uzbeks. Another banner calls for the punishment of Uzbek businessman Kadyrjan Batyrov, accused by many Kyrgyz -- including a national commission investigating June’s events -- of instigating the violence.
Maybe the protesters had lost faith in Kyrgyzstan’s justice system and figured they had a better chance of being heard if they took their anger into the street: On March 3, a group of 40 tried to storm the Bishkek office of noted human rights activist Toktaiym Umetalieva. Her offense? Invoking the principle that people are innocent until proven guilty.
The crowd, held back by police, was reportedly made up of relatives of four police officers shot dead in early January. Umetalieva had sparked her detractors’ anger by doubting the official account of the standoff, which identified the suspects, arrested soon after the shootout, as Islamic radicals. She has pointed out that, after two months, no one has produced proof and said, as other independent analysts have, that Kyrgyzstan’s security forces are exaggerating the threat of radical Islam.
“By defending killers, Toktaiym Umetalieva becomes a killer herself!" read a banner held by one of the protesters, according to 24.kg. Someone in the crowd demanded she be prosecuted, “otherwise we will pull her out and perform our own justice!”
Justice is relative in southern Kyrgyzstan. But blame seems to be absolute.
The murder of a tax official has set off a protest with frightening parallels to events preceding ethnic violence last summer.
Sagynbek Alimbayev, the deputy head of the regional tax service, was found dead February 23 in a brand-new Lexus sedan with a gunshot wound to the chest. Two days later, local authorities said they had arrested the culprits, three ethnic Uzbeks, who had allegedly acted on orders from a businessman in Uzbekistan.
Employing the kind of mob justice that has replaced courts here, several hundred Kyrgyz rioted in the southern town of Nookat on March 1 and burned down a house or three that, they say, belong to the killers.
As police dispersed the rioters, taxman Alimbayev’s son Nurbek did his part to keep hostilities ablaze. He announced, improbably, that the murder was carried out on order of the elusive, exiled enemy number one: Kadyrjan Batyrov. A wealthy businessman from Jalal-Abad, Batyrov had called last spring for Uzbeks to have greater representation in government, but not, independent investigators have found, much more. Yet he is constantly blamed for sparking the ethnic violence that left at least 400 dead.
After winter’s seasonal scarcity, spring is the traditional time for protest in Kyrgyzstan. And though cold weather may hold onto the country for some weeks more, what happens next seems to be on everyone’s mind in Bishkek. Most expect protests of some sort, fueled by inflation, rising bread prices, and perceptions of a paralyzed parliament.
The fears are so acute that some are even beginning to ask themselves: What would Kyrgyzstan look like if this new government were unseated, like the last two, through popular protest? The answer is: Afghanistan.
“If another coup takes place in Kyrgyzstan, then surely a regime of warlords will be established in the country,” the president’s chief of staff, Emilbek Kaptagayev, said on February 16.
Of course it is in Kaptagayev’s interest to warn against unrest; he wants to hold onto his post. But some regions are already governed by the warlords of which he warns -- a mix of criminal gangs and other local power brokers, sometimes with connections to the police, and with no loyalty to Bishkek. Parts of the south are the most obvious examples.
The first deputy governor of Osh Province, Kushbak Tezekbaev, said the same day that in his region, “Many senior government bodies do not work; they are concerned with earning money and receiving bribes.” Only five percent of those in law enforcement there do their jobs, he added.
Now, taking his cue from Central Asia’s despot playbook, MP Ismail Isakov, the interim government’s defense minister during ethnic violence last summer, says a legally non-binding report has insulted him. Therefore, he will sue.
General Ismail Isakov, who was President Roza Otunbaeva's defense minister and special representative in the south during the unrest, said in Bishkek that the National Commission's conclusions -- in which he was cited as one of the government leaders responsible for allowing the clashes to take place -- are "superficial and groundless."
Isakov -- who is a parliament deputy -- said the commission's conclusions have impacted negatively on his "personal dignity and honor" and so he will defend himself in court.