A legal amendment that would restrict the rights of Kyrgyzstan’s minorities sailed through parliament last week with a vote of 84 to 12. Legislators must endorse the amendment to the law “On the State Language” in two more readings before it can come into force.
The draft amendment proposes to fine government officials (clerks and above) for speaking anything other than Kyrgyz in the process of performing their official duties. Moreover, all official documents, including tax returns, would need to be submitted to authorities in Kyrgyz and only Kyrgyz, Kloop.kg explains. Currently the law allows documents to be submitted either in Kyrgyz, the “state language,” or Russian, Kyrgyzstan’s “official language.”
Under the amendment, government bodies would no longer be required to provide Russian translation at official functions, parliament would no longer consider draft laws in anything but Kyrgyz, and civil servants would need to pass a rigorous Kyrgyz language test.
The amendment would thus bar from public service and civic life anyone who does not speak fluent Kyrgyz – that is, minorities and some of the best-educated Kyrgyz, who often speak Russian as a first language. According to the 2009 census, Kyrgyzstan is approximately 71 percent ethnic Kyrgyz; Russians and Uzbeks constitute another 22.3 percent of the population.
Russian’s status as Kyrgyzstan’s “official language” would become virtually meaningless, while the amendment could further isolate Kyrgyzstan internationally.
Three brothers of a journalist murdered in 2007 have been attacked outside their Bishkek home, Fergananews reports. One of the suspected assailants is the nephew of a prominent member of Kyrgyzstan's parliament.
Journalist Shokhrukh Saipov and students Ozodbek and Yusuf Saipov are younger brothers of Alisher Saipov, a well-known ethnic Uzbek journalist and editor who was gunned down outside the offices of his paper, "Siyosat" (Politics), in Osh on October 24, 2007.
Saipov’s murder has never been solved, and many regional experts believe Uzbekistan's secret services played a role. Saipov, who was 26 at the time of his death, was often critical of the regime of Islam Karimov in Tashkent.
Journalists and rights activists across the region are outraged at the attack on his brothers. Shokhrukh was inspired to become a journalist when Kyrgyz authorities failed to investigate his brother’s murder. He was also attacked in Osh in August 2011.
Aziza Abdurasulova, head of Kylym Shamy, a human rights watchdog in Bishkek, said Shokhrukh and Yusuf required medical care. Shokhrukh was beaten so badly he was unable to speak. They intend to press charges, she said.
Bishkek police have arrested Azamat Tekebayev, nephew of the head of the Ata-Meken party, MP Omurbek Tekebayev, as a suspect. It’s unclear what the motive was. Azamat and an accomplice, who has also been detained, say both sides started the fight.
Police in Bishkek clashed with protestors calling for the nationalization of a strategic gold mine on October 3. Dozens of men climbed over the fence surrounding the parliament building, known as the White House, before police drove them away with tear gas and stun grenades.
Two deputies from the nationalist Ata-Jurt (“Fatherland”) party led the protests, which local media reports say were attended by over 1,000 people. Photos show Ata-Jurt leader Kamchybek Tashiev -- who said he suffered a leg injury -- leading the assault. A deputy interior minister said Tashiev led the protestors over the fence.
Another member of Ata-Jurt, Sadyr Japarov, reportedly told protestors to follow him to the White House, where they would “sit in the offices of the deputies, the president, the prime minister,” the Knews.kg news agency quoted him as saying. Ata-Jurt has the most seats in parliament, but is not a member of the ruling coalition.
At least 12 people were injured, Kloop.kg reported, several with gunshot wounds. It is not clear who fired at whom or if some of the rioters were armed. Police were among the injured.
Authorities in Bishkek have blocked the independent Russian-language news site Fergananews.com, eight months after a controversial parliament resolution saying the site should not be accessible to readers in Kyrgyzstan. It is unclear why the decision took so long to implement.
Kyrgyzstan’s legislature voted unanimously to block the Moscow-based website for perceived bias last June, around the one-year anniversary of interethnic bloodshed between Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities in the country’s south. The decision came at a time when many ethnic Kyrgyz felt unfairly demonized by the international community, while politicians parlayed the sentiment into nationalist chest thumping. According to the parliamentary resolution, Fergananews (previously Ferghana.ru), which covered the 2010 ethnic violence and its aftermath in exhaustive and critical detail, “ignites ethnic hatred.”
Press-freedom activists have condemned the move, with Reporters Without Borders calling it “absurd and outrageous.”
“Blocking a news website that is as professional and impartial as Fergana’s is a major step backwards for a country that aspires to be ‘Central Asia’s first parliamentary democracy,’” the Paris-based watchdog said in a statement on February 21.
According to Fergananews, Kyrgyz Telecom, Kyrgyzstan’s largest Internet service provider, blocked the site after a request from the State Agency for Communications earlier this month. Other ISPs have not yet followed, so the site is still available for some users.
Tired of seeing their countrymen return from Russia in body bags, sometimes ferociously disfigured, a concerned group in Tajikistan is taking their outrage online, petitioning presidents and parliaments in both countries to take action.
Hundreds of Tajik migrant laborers in Russia die each year, falling victim to dangerous working conditions and, some fear, bloodthirsty Russian nationalists. According to Tajikistan’s migration service, between January and August this year, over 600 Tajik nationals died in Russia: Of those, 67 were murdered and another 238 succumbed to disease; the rest were presumably accidents. Rights activists estimate that over a million Tajiks work in Russia.
Every few months, it seems, another brutal case prompts renewed attention, offering some macabre déjà vu.
Bakhtiyar Rasulov’s headless body was found in his burned-out taxicab near St. Petersburg on November 16. He had been stabbed repeatedly and his head stuffed into the trunk.
It's a bird … It's a plane … It's Kyrgyz Superboy!
A man in Kyrgyzstan has developed what might be the country’s proudest toy.
The die-cast plastic boy -- wearing a national hat, the kalpak, vest and riding boots -- sings Kyrgyzstan’s national anthem as well as three patriotic Kyrgyz songs. His kneeling sidekick, sold separately, recites verses from the Koran, AKIpress reported. (With video, too).
Akyikat – named after designer Irisbek Zhabirov’s son – could be an inspiring figure for Kyrgyz children. But what will he inspire? Nationalism or something more benign? A rabid anti-foreigner sentiment is flourishing in Kyrgyzstan, particularly since ethnic violence last year left hundreds dead. What kind of values, then, shall we hope for from Akyikat?
The little guy also faces a congenital struggle: He’s made in China – the target of much Kyrgyz xenophobia.
But parents, don’t worry. The $6 price tag includes a guarantee from the manufacturer: All its Chinese-made toys are non-toxic and harmless to your children. So hurry, there are only 10,000 copies of each available.
Furthering an ideological shift from national liberation to nationalism, authorities in Bishkek have removed a prominent statue called “Freedom” and will soon replace it with a statue of the mythical hero Manas. Manas, of the eponymous Kyrgyz-language epic poem, has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years as Kyrgyzstan struggles to define an identity.
That task has taken on renewed urgency since ethnic pogroms against minorities --- who make up 30 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s population -- last year. But in this multiethnic state, Manas – unlike Freedom – is unmistakably Kyrgyz.
Freedom, in place since 2004 in Bishkek’s main square, the scene of uprisings in 2005 and 2010, had been represented by a winged woman hoisting a tunduk – the crisscrossed top of a yurt, a symbol of Kyrgyz national identity. Some Kyrgyz have been upset with the 12-meter statue in recent months, claiming a woman should not be lifting a tunduk, for that is a man’s job.
Previously, a monument to Soviet founding father Vladimir Lenin had stood on her plinth; he has now been relegated to a spot behind the history museum, facing the building where the government sits.
Kyrgyzstan’s leaders just can’t accept the international response to last June’s ethnic violence. Responding to the latest in a series of independent studies that dare say more Kyrgyz killed Uzbeks (though it did clearly point out that Uzbeks killed Kyrgyz, too), on May 26 parliament banned the report’s author, Finnish politician Kimmo Kiljunen, from entering Kyrgyzstan.
Not a single deputy in the 120-seat legislature was brave enough to vote against the proposal, which passed with 95 votes and one abstention.
As Kyrgyzstan approaches presidential elections, the country is becoming a bastion of intolerance. Anyone who challenges the dominant nationalist discourse, which essentially holds that Uzbeks got what they deserved during the ethnic bloodletting -- and, by the way, members of the minority are ungrateful separatist-terrorists -- is accused of conspiring against the nation. The majority, in turn, takes increasingly drastic measures to make sure all they hear is that they are correct.
The Kyrgyz-language newspaper Aykin Sayasat published an outrageous commentary on April 27, titled “Will the ‘Jews’ Leave Us with Nothing?”. Its appearance raises concerns that unchecked bigotry can spur more violence in Kyrgyzstan.
Among the many disturbing aspects to the piece is its use of the pejorative term “жиды” (zhidy), instead of “евреи” (yevrei), to characterize Jews. Beyond that, the article rants that Jews have “over a number of years, and in many different countries, developed anti-state policies.” It also revives a rumor that former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s notoriously venal son, Maxim, was Jewish.
It is worth remembering before going into a more thorough discussion of the article’s contents that on April 7, 2010, the day Bakiyev was driven out of Bishkek, anti-Semitic graffiti appeared in the central Ala-Too Square. That same day, a Molotov cocktail was hurled into the country’s only synagogue. In September, that synagogue was again target of an attack – this time attackers launched an explosive device at the building.
Officials in Bishkek have been conspicuously silent on the Aykin Sayasat commentary. Such reticence sharply contrasts to their response to the alleged publication of The Hour of the Jackal, a book they say has been funded by scheming ethnic Uzbeks seeking to incite racial hatred. Kyrgyzstan’s Prosecutor General has even opened a criminal investigation into the matter.
Moscow is bracing for more violence after recent unrest that included dozens of violent acts targeting people from the Caucasus and Central Asia and thousands shouting nationalistic slogans.
On Decmber 13, the Moscow government dispatched busloads of extra police and several ambulances to the city center, according to the Russian-language Gazeta.ru. The extra forces cordoned off the Alexandrovskiy Garden, which is adjacent to the Kremlin, and closed off the nearby Ohotniy Ryad metro station.
Police are also preparing for possible clashes over the next several weeks, with leaders of Caucasian communities contemplating counter-rallies and the impending 40-day anniversary of the death of football fan Yegor Sviridov, whose shooting by a group of Caucasus natives ignited the recent tension. (The 40-day mark is significant in the Russian Orthodox Church.)
About 5,500 people came out onto the city’s central Manezhnaya Square on Saturday, Dec. 11, demanding an investigation into Sviridov’s death, which happened during a brawl on December 5. The protest soon escalated into riots, however, with Sviridov’s fellow football fans chanting slogans like “F*uck the Caucasus,” gesturing the Hitler sieg-heil salute and attacking people with a Caucasian and Central Asian appearance. Protests had also taken place during the previous week in Moscow, also on Saturday in St. Petersburg, and in Rostov on Sunday, resulting in at least 32 medical visits and 140 people detained in all three locations.