Kyrgyzstan Update

by Nathan Hamm on 3/7/2005 · 15 comments

Protests are still going on across southern Kyrgyzstan, roads are blocked, the opposition is calling for an early presidential election, Roza Otunbayeva’s home has been attacked, and parliament is convening an extraordinary session. Time for a news roundup.

First, Ben Paarmann writes about the decentralization of democratic movements in Kyrgyzstan:

The elections that occurred within this landlocked, mountainous Central Asian country could nevertheless trigger hope. And it is this hope that feeds the activism of hundreds of people. People who have not written off democratic reform yet could become an increasingly crucial component in this October’s presidential election. The outside world would do good to keep its focus on Kyrgyzstan for the remaining eight months until the country will stand again at a crossroads. It might still happen that the ‘Sinking Island of Democracy’ can keep itself afloat.

IWPR has apost-election roundup. It surprised me a bit to read that even before the runoff vote, 15% of seats in the new parliament are held by ethnic minorities.

Interfax reports that opposition groups are calling for an early presidential election (via Gateway Pundit). [Also see this post from RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service]

“Five opposition coalitions have urged the parliament to help stabilize the situation,” Fatherland opposition coalition leader Roza Otunbayeva and vice chairman of the Popular Movement of Kyrgyzstan Ishenkul Boldzhurova said at a news conference on Monday.

“The authorities are losing control of the situation. Current developments in southern Kyrgyzstan, where a rally has been going on since March 4, suggest that not only the opposition, but also the people want change in the authorities,” said Otunbayeva.

The parliament is meeting for an emergency session on March 10, reports Interfax:

The Kyrgyz parliament is preparing to gather for an emergency session on March 10, Zeina Kurmanov, leader of the Right Coalition centrist faction, said on Monday.

“The signatures have already been collected. To hold an emergency parliamentary session, one-third of the deputies must support the motion. The emergency session will be held on March 10,” he said.

“Judging from the situation, the government is incapable of solving the problems facing the country,” said Kurmanov.

Protests are currently being held in Dzhalal-Abad in southern Kyrgyzstan and in Naryn in the north. Over 1,500 people are reported to have joined the rally in Dzhalal-Abad and about 1,000 are taking part in Naryn. Some of the protesters are blocking the Bishkek-Torugart highway leading to China.

Kurmanov said the protests were provoked by “flagrant violations of the election law in the first round of the parliamentary elections.”

RFE/RL reports on the protesters in Naryn province who have blocked a highway demanding that Ishenbai Kadyrbekov be allowed to run in the second round of the parliamentary election.

It should not come as a surprise that the government is calling on people to not rock the boat.

The government will not put up with forces that are rocking the boat. It will abide by the law closely and toughly, said Nikolai Tanayev, Kyrgyzstan’s Prime Minister.

Public rallies are on in Jalal-Abad, regional center in the country’s south, to support dropouts of the parliamentary poll initial round. The government has chosen to wait and see, says the Premier.

“We are in a dialogue with the candidates whose supporters are seizing governing agencies’ premises. The squatters may sit it out for a day or two, even three days. We’ll keep on even for a month-but we shall not tolerate whatever chance for their moves to bring irreversible fruit,” Mr. Tanayev said while commenting Jalal-Abad administrative premises seized by public protesters.

“We are recording all developments. We calculate the damages down to the last tyiyn [the smallest Kyrgyz coin]. That concerns economic and moral damages alike. The culprits will certainly answer,” warned the Premier.

I have my doubts that Tanayev will be sending out billing statements…

Zaman Online has more official remarks from the Kyrgyz ambassador to Turkey regarding the election. I catch a little bit of the “we must destroy democracy in order to save it” sentiment in there.

And to wrap this episode up is a piece from the always interesting Daniel Kimmage of RFE/RL on the Tajik and Kyrgyz elections:

This summary of the results fails to convey a crucial factor that set these elections apart from earlier ballots — the context of Georgia’s Rose Revolution and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. In Kyrgyzstan, where many observers noted that prerequisites for such change are more numerous than in other Central Asian countries, the specter of revolution was ubiquitous. It dominated pre-election analyses, with observers vying to gauge the odds of a Kyrgyz revolution and guess its color. It haunted President Akaev, who claimed in numerous public statements that political change in Georgia and Ukraine was a well-funded put-up job by outside forces and insisted that nothing of the sort would happen in Kyrgyzstan. And it dogged the opposition, which found itself caught between the expectations of observers and the fears of the authorities. In Tajikistan, where a president firmly in control and bitter memories of the 1992-97 civil war militated against any revolutionary scenarios, the very unlikelihood of another Georgia or Ukraine set the stage for a lackluster race.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Rob March 7, 2005 at 2:13 pm

Great stuff! I love this line:

“The squatters may sit it out for a day or two, even three days. We’ll keep on even for a month-but we shall not tolerate whatever chance for their moves to bring irreversible fruit.”

Heh, how long did the Ukrainians sit it out? And in much worse weather.

The blogswarm on this has been quite fast. You have to wonder if Glenn knows how much power he has.

RLG March 7, 2005 at 3:31 pm

The question that begins to be suggested is just how much of what is happening in Kyrgyzstan is in response to revolutionary events in Iraq, Ukraine, and now Lebanon and elsewhere, how much is simply pent up frustration with dictatorial rulers that was overdue to erupt, and how much is due to America’s President Bush being willing to take a firm stand in favor of freedom and against dictators. I see a combination of factors, the essential ingredient of which was announced in our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness…” It was important that at each stage of the unfolding events that followed the invasion of Iraq, President Bush ignored critics and re-affirmed our commitment to free elections, first in Iraq and then in Ukraine.

As Kimmage notes, “…The specter of revolution was ubiquitous.” But it erupts and sweeps on to victory when there is realistic support from the outside world. So, Bravo! to the people of Kyrgyzstan, and Iraq, Ukraine, Lebanon and wherever else people gain courage to throw off oppressive rule. For example, Iran. But I hope and pray that America through its leaders will continue to call upon the leaders of the world to uphold the principles of democratic self-rule.

Robert March 7, 2005 at 4:20 pm

“and how much is due to America’s President Bush being willing to take a firm stand in favor of freedom and against dictators”

That should be “and how much is due to America’s President Bush being willing to take a firm stand in favor of freedom and against dictators that aren’t in charge of countries where we have a lot of corporations ( political donors ) doing business”

Nathan March 7, 2005 at 4:38 pm

Well, to each his own, but even on its face, the sentiment seems a little facile. Considering the Bush administration’s willingness to stab political allies (Shevardnadze & Kuchma) in the back for no certain gain, I hardly think it’s all about the will of political donors.

RLG March 7, 2005 at 5:11 pm

Please clarify. Are you saying, “It’s all about oil”!

Miguel March 7, 2005 at 5:36 pm

As usual. Bush can not do anything ok. Iraquis, Lebanese, Kyrguiz, lots of people praise Bush for his accomplishments in furthering freedom, but you find the typical American traitors, not only to their country, but to the human race, because they get so angry at the wave of freedom that is sweeping the world now. But, all they are getting from the rest of the world, specially the people benefited by this surge towards freedom, is despise and scorn. Those traitors to liberty are dead-set against History…and will end up in the dustbin of history. I’m not American, but I’d tell everybody the same if I was: never mind those traitors to their country and to the human race, freedom is going to win in the end, whether they like it or not. Must be a drag to be such a loser, to side with the worst kind of human beings, like dictators and repressors, just out of a stupid and infantile hatred for Bush and all the beautiful things he represents. Must be a drag to hate freedom just because you hate the people that help bringing in about. Must be a drag to hate Bush now that he’s having such huge successes. Must be like hating Reagan in 1989 lol. Poor decieved fools.

Nathan March 7, 2005 at 6:44 pm

Well, time for the 800 pound gorilla to step in here. Comments don’t normally get into broad ideological arguments around here. It’s not that we discourage it or anything, it’s just that it normally doesn’t happen.

While I disagree with Robert, there’s no reason to call him a “traitor,” a “loser,” or a hater of freedom. He’s got a different point of view. You’re free to disagree, but the policy around here is to do it with respect and evidence. I typically just delete what I wouldn’t want to see or hear in my own home and leave it at that, so consider this a warning.

Ben March 7, 2005 at 7:41 pm

I disagree with the points put forward by ‘RLG’: Analysing events in Kyrgyzstan and Lebanon by asking “…how much is due to America’s President Bush being willing to take a firm stand in favor of freedom and against dictators” seems somewhat dubious to me.

“Transition Trends” ( has made a valid point on the misappropriation of the Lebanese events by the US.

As for Kyrgyzstan, I would dismiss any such claim that current demonstrators take much of their courage from Bush’s words on freedom, democracy, etc. That’s a bit too far-fetched I think.

Also, the US commitment didn’t bring about fair elections in the Ukraine – they were as you say due to a combination of factors, most of which I see as home-grown, though.


Nathan March 7, 2005 at 8:02 pm

There certainly is some over-appropriation and the credit should rightly sit with those who are putting themselves at risk and doing the fighting. However, the United States has shifted the terms of the debate in a pretty significant and important way. The Bush administration has also lent rhetorical support in many of these places. Though it’s difficult to quantify, it is important. In other words, it’s been one of the factors helping preference cascades to tear back the veil and spring forth.

And while I’d agree that Kyrgyz protesters probably aren’t taking courage from the administration’s words, I’m sure it is emboldened by the administration sticking to its words in some important cases. Hell, I’ve seen some criticize the administration for taking actions that embolden democracy activists.

The Bush administration has been a small factor, but even a small factor can play a decisive role, though I would only say that it arguably has in the case of Georgia.

Ben March 7, 2005 at 8:46 pm

Well, I see your point, Nathan.

Of course, tipping point analysis is a science on its own account. The US administration’s debate on democratisation might be added to the factors, but should not stand as the prime cause for the recently witnessed wave of ‘people’s power’ in the Middle East. That would simply dishonour the people risking their lives on the streets as you say.

Interestingly, Germany’s Der Spiegel, so often tremendously critical of US policy, runs a story on that from a German perspective – and argues quite eloquently for a further spread of ‘George W. Bush’s Infectious Virus’, which they dub: ‘Democracy at the Tip of a Sword’. Worth reading I think (it’s in English…),1518,344679,00.html

As far Kyrgyzstan (again) is concerned, I can only recall my time in Bishkek. Freedom House is to my knowledge in constant contact with the American embassy over its actions. I allege that the decision to uphold the printing of “MSN” had been crosschecked with Ambassador Young before. On this side of the coin, that already shows a clear commitment; maybe part of an overall strategy, maybe not.

My comment might hence have been a bit too strong. But – and I hope you can excuse that – after all I’m from good old Europe and tend to be cautious when it comes to things like that 😉


Nathan March 7, 2005 at 10:40 pm

Heck, I overstate points all the time. I’m from one of the more cowboy parts of America after all. I understand the caution and those of us who like to jump into action need others to voice doubts.

The Bush administration’s democratization policy is routinely mischaracterized and continues to be even by those who are now wondering if there’s something to it after all (the article from Der Spiegel continues to misunderstand it I think). And, I don’t think it will really be understood by most until there’s some hindsight–hindsight that those like Claus Christian Malzahn are just now starting to get. Bush is a fairly modest person with a simple and well-founded faith in the power of human liberty.

I’ve yet to hear anyone within the administration take direct and significant credit for the recent upsurge in democratic protests–only supporters (and, truth be told, I don’t watch TV news, so if anyone is not giving credit where it’s due, they’re wrong in misplacing credit). And honestly, I think events are unfolding much quicker than Bush had anticipated, indicating that there’s much more pent up desire for liberty than any of us optimists had expected. It’ll be a rocky path, but it’s one well worth travelling and I for one am happy that the terms of the debate have shifted.

csh March 8, 2005 at 11:52 am

You know there are so many posts claiming that the U.S. only supports democracy and change in places where it has business interests. But if you really look at it, places where we have business interests are the ones that have at least some miniscule element of freedom. They may still be run by dictators and may violate their people’s rights on so many levels you can’t count them, but as long as their is some element of freedom, the U.S. tends to be patient. We try to wait it out, hoping there will be change internally as soon the economy grows enough to where people can think about something other than survival.

The U.S. will always be bashed; whether we wait, or whether we rush in. But in the end, when it gets too bad to suffer any longer, we will step in and impact the situation. As it was said before going into Iraq, “We’re going to shake it up and see how it settles”. So far, I like the way it’s beginning to settle.

RLG March 8, 2005 at 12:59 pm

As noted, the members of the Bush administration are not rushing to take credit for eruptions of democracy around the world, nor should they. The brave people who face the dangers coming from brutal dictators, who use force to silence dissent and imprison their critics, deserve the credit for demanding change and protesting bogus, rigged election results. They are the main ingredient for what is happening in their willingness to engage in protests against oppressive rulers the way people have throughout history. Sadly, their heroism has frequently been met with repression rather than change. This happened in Russia under the Tsars; it precipitated the French revolution when defenders of the King fired on peaceful protestors; the soldiers crushed the protestors in Tiananmen Square in China.
But the “self-evident truths” proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence persist, and when people rise up in pursuit of freedom and justice, it’s good to see an American leader using the power and prestige of this great nation, seeking to be a “tipping point” that shifts the outcome in the direction of democracy. Just today, President Bush gave a major speech, again calling on the leaders of the world to take a stand supporting those who rise up in pursuit of their God-given rights.

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