Ex-Soviet Kyr­gyzs­tan weighs le­gacy of revo­lu­tion

Cor­rup­tion among the coun­try’s big prob­lems, civic free­doms in doubt


Ky­ly­ch­bek Bek­sariyev lost two friends to a bloody revo­lu­tion he hoped would trans­form ex-Soviet Kyr­gyzs­tan, but five years af­ter the ouster of a re­viled leader he says his Cen­tral Asian home­land re­mains mired in poverty and cor­rup­tion.

“Of­fi­cials still steal,” the sports in­struc­tor, 27, said. “I work the same job I worked in 2010. The pay in­creased 20 per­cent and the price of bread by 30 per­cent.” “Is that progress?” he asked. A land­locked na­tion of some six mil­lion peo­ple, Kyr­gyzs­tan has suf­fered pe­ri­odic bouts of po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity and eth­nic strife since shortly be­fore its in­de­pen­dence from the USSR in 1991.

The up­ris­ing of April 2010 — when scores of pro­test­ers were killed as they seized gov­ern­ment of­fices — turfed out au­thor­i­tar­ian leader Kur­man­bek Bakiyev, who him­self came to power on the back of a popular up­ris­ing five years ear­lier.

The ouster of Bakiyev — now in ex­ile in Be­larus — sparked hope of a rare demo­cratic break­through in a re­gion dom­i­nated by aging Soviet-era au­to­crats.

Since then the coun­try un­der cur­rent leader Al­mazbek Atam­bayev has made vi­tal strides to­wards ce­ment­ing a multi-party sys­tem and faces gen­uinely com­pet­i­tive par­lia­men­tary polls this fall.

Speak­ing Tues­day in the cap­i­tal Bishkek at a cer­e­mony to re­mem­ber the peo­ple who died dur­ing the April 7 revo­lu­tion, Atam­bayev in­sisted progress has been made.

“We are cre­at­ing a coun­try of free peo­ple. We are build­ing a secular, demo­cratic state,” said Atam­bayev, whose legally per­mit­ted sin­gle term ends in 2017.

But some say the ex­pec­ta­tions of the up­ris­ing have not been met.

“We can­not say the revo­lu­tion’s aims were ful­filled,” says Osun­bek Ja­mansariyev, who runs an or­ga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing rel­a­tives of over 80 pro­test­ers who died in the vi­o­lence.

“Our po­lice force and courts are still ve­hi­cles for injustice. Peo­ple are poor. There is a dan­ger the sit­u­a­tion could be­come rev­o­lu­tion­ary again,” he told AFP.

Tricky In­ter­na­tional Ties

On the in­ter­na­tional stage the strate­gi­cally lo­cated coun­try strug­gles to tread a line be­tween its for­mer Soviet mas­ter Rus­sia, vast neigh­bor China and the West.

Last year, fol­low­ing Ukraine’s Maidan revo­lu­tion Kyr­gyzs­tan’s gov­ern­ment re­leased a state­ment sym­pa­thetic to the move­ment and crit­i­cal of Rus­sian-backed fugi­tive pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych.

But when res­i­dents of Crimea voted to join Rus­sia in a widely crit­i­cized ref­er­en­dum months later, the Cen­tral Asian coun­try was among the first to rec­og­nize the re­sults, re­flect­ing a de­pen­dence on Rus­sia, where up to a mil­lion Kyr- gyz work as mi­grant la­bor­ers.

The coun­try is due next month to be­come the fifth mem­ber of the Rus­sian-led Eurasian Eco­nomic Union, a pet project of Rus­sian strongman Vladimir Putin that the West fears is an at­tempt to rebuild the USSR.

Dur­ing a re­cent 10-day tour of Europe that saw him meet Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel Pres­i­dent Atam­bayev, how­ever, pre­sented his repub­lic as a “bridge” be­tween Moscow and the West. But such state­ments do not re­flect the re­al­ity of a state still try­ing to de­fine its place in the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem, says po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Marat Kaza­k­paev.

“To call Kyr­gyzs­tan a bridge is ridicu­lous. This is not a well­known coun­try with a big econ­omy to ex­ert lever­age on in­ter­na­tional af­fairs,” Kaza­k­paev told AFP.

Cor­rup­tion also re­mains a ma­jor prob­lem with Kyr­gyzs­tan ranked 136th out of 175 coun­tries in Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional’s 2014 Cor­rup­tion Per­cep­tions In­dex.

And there are fears that Atam­bayev’s gov­ern­ment has strug­gled to deal with eth­nic ten­sions be­tween Kyr­gyz and Uzbeks in the south of the coun­try that left hun­dreds dead in 2010.

Last month an Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist in­ves­ti­gat­ing in­ter-eth­nic is­sues, as well as re­ports that Kyr­gyz cit­i­zens are fight­ing with Is­lamic rad­i­cals in Syria, was de­tained and de­ported.

A raid on a prom­i­nent rights or- ga­ni­za­tion also sparked fears of a crack­down on civic or­ga­ni­za­tions.

But the gov­ern­ment in­sists there is no back­slid­ing on democ­racy fol­low­ing the first demo­cratic tran­si­tion of power that saw Atam­bayev take over from in­terim leader Rosa Otun­bayeva in 2011.

“We tried fam­ily-clan dic­ta­tor­ship twice and it did not work out ei­ther time,” said Isa Omurkulov, a politi­cian who served as Bishkek’s mayor.



(Above) Peo­ple stand for the na­tional an­them close to a mon­u­ment for those killed dur­ing the April 2010 up­ris­ing in Ala-Too Square in the Kyr­gyzs­tan’s cap­i­tal Bishkek on Tues­day, April 7. (Left) Peo­ple pray at a mon­u­ment for those killed dur­ing the April 2010 up­ris­ing in Ala-Too Square in the Kyr­gyzs­tan’s cap­i­tal Bishkek dur­ing a com­mem­o­ra­tive cer­e­mony to mark the 5th an­niver­sary of the event on Tues­day.

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