More on the Clashes in South Kyrgyzstan

by Nathan Hamm on 3/20/2005 · 10 comments

“We are the only authority existing now in the Jalal-Abad region.”
— Nurvaze Mamatov, a leader of the Jalalabad protesters

The Kyrgyz government apparently decided enough was enough and tried to shut down the protests and alternative governments in Osh and Jalalabad. They seem to have been successful in Osh, where the police arrested the people’s governor and over 150 protesters. The operations spectacularly failed in Jalabad though as the below reports detail. Between 10,000 and 20,000 protesters (depending on who you listen to) recaptured the regional administration building and burned down the Interior Ministry building after freeing protesters held inside. Roza Otunbayeva told reporters that some police units in Jalalabad have pledged their loyalty to the protesters. There are also rumors – strongly denied by the government – that Akayev has left the country and is in Moscow.

More from Ben Paarmann

EurasiaNet: offers up a good summary of what happened:

The trouble started just before dawn on March 20, when special police units used force to take back the local administration offices in both Osh and Jalal-Abad. Protesters, led by political opponents of President Askar Akayev, had occupied the government building in Jalal-Abad since March 4. The government office in Osh had been in protesters’ hands since March 18.

Information was sketchy on the number of injured during the special police operation. According to Radio Liberty, a large number of demonstrators were injured, some seriously, in clashes with heavily armed police. Witnesses in both Osh and Jalal-Abad reported hearing shots fired.

The L.A. Times coverage also reports that the airport was briefly siezed to prevent the government from flying in police or soldiers from Bishkek.

Protesters also briefly took over the airport and used trucks to dump soil and gravel on its runway, in an effort to prevent the government from flying in security reinforcements. The police who drove demonstrators out of the governor’s office this morning were believed by protesters to have been flown in from Bishkek, the capital.

They sound fairly organized…

As many as 10 reportedly killed in clash, but it’s unknown if they are police or protesters. Interfax’s report on the fighting in Jalalabad sounds fairly intense, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear that there were deaths. The government denies that anyone died in the clashes.

Buried in the AP coverage is something positive to have come out of the clashes.

The government said it was ready to negotiate with the protesters who have demanded President Askar Akayev’s resignation.

“We hope there will be no further violence,” presidential aide Abdil Seghizbayev said.

Here’s to hoping that they are serious and are willing to truly compromise. The Coordinating Council of People’s Unity (the organization made up of opposition leaders) has called on the government to refrain from violence and the State Department has issued a statement calling for negotiation.

Here’s more from Peace Corps Volunteers in Kyrgyzstan:

Sean in Bazarkorgon says things are pretty intense.

Ailey talks about being trapped (plus some bonus stuff about the crazy things we Americans think we know about ourselves).

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This post was written by...

– 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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Laurence March 20, 2005 at 9:56 pm

What is being reported here isn’t a “rose revolution,” it seems more like a regional secession movement backed by the US. It looks like there is nothing to negotiate and Akayev may be forced to crush it, — unless the numbers add up differently from what I have been taught, this might end up a defeat for the US backed rebels, something Putin has an interest in seeing, after all the setbacks for Russia ini Ukraine, et al…

But, of course, I could be wrong.

Nathan March 20, 2005 at 10:10 pm

The US isn’t backing a faction but a position – that Kyrgyzstan’s government should be a guarantor of free elections and should back away from becoming an asset of a small group of politicians. We aren’t even calling for a new vote as we did with Ukraine (though I could see that position changing). Sure, our position is shared by a certain political group, but it’s important to remember that in our dealings with Kyrgyzstan, we’ve defunded NGOs for furthering the aims of certain political parties.

As for Russia, they learned from their failure in Ukraine not to back a side. They’ve kept contacts with the opposition. The opposition has mentioned that they place great hope in Russia and look forward to maintaining excellent ties with Russia. March 20, 2005 at 11:18 pm

Nathan, Were you not taking a side when you posted a Tulip on

Nobody is fooled by the official stance. It is obvious that the US is taking sides here. I’m no expert on Kyrgyzstan, but I’d say it would be in Russia’s interest to crush this rebelllion, brutally if necessary, as a message to the USA to lay off trying to destabilize the CIS, whatever Russia’s official position might be…

IMHO The region does not need more instability. But as I said, I could be wrong.

Aris Katsaris March 21, 2005 at 12:18 am

I’m no expert on Kyrgyzstan, but I’d say it would be in Russia’s interest to crush this rebelllion, brutally if necessary, as a message to the USA to lay off trying to destabilize the CIS, whatever Russia’s official position might be.

It’ll be a message alright, a message to everyone that still harbours delusions about Russia’s role and nature. I’m not sure Russia can afford such a message in this juncture. She could crush this half-assed limited “rebellion”, and sow the seeds for a truly widespread anti-Russian pan-kyrgyz (if not pan-CIS) revolution 5 years hence.

Pn my part I’d be all in favour of a democratic “Tulip Revolution” in Kyrgyzstan, but am not at all sure this is it. So far it seems to me to be just mobs of political elites fighting for benefits, instead of them actually having a democratic vision for an open society. I could be wrong ofcourse, and I hope I am.

Nathan March 21, 2005 at 12:19 am

You’re damned right I was taking a side. I’m not the United States government, though my side-taking is pretty similar. It’s on the position, not particular politicians. I’m uneasy with the behavior of some of the protesters and do not support their efforts to intimidate electoral commissions into overturning election results.

I’m going to take the State Department at its word because the track record backs it up. It’s the same standard I’ll apply to any state. When actions follow words, words are worth taking seriously.

Like I said, there’s an overlap. Certain groups support the political position we have, but it is the case that we have defunded organizations for being partisan.

Russia’s foreign policy in the CIS tends to be to sow instability to create reliance on Moscow’s money and troops. It worked in Tajikistan and it worked in Georgia. Russia usually could care less about instability so long as it creates reliance.

And, they certainly learned a lesson in Ukraine. Gleb Pavlovsky, who is a true son of a bitch in my book, called for the policy that Russia seems to be following. If Russia stays out of domestic politics in the CIS, it doesn’t run the risk of looking like such an asshole and more importantly, increases the chance that a new government wouldn’t be hostile to Moscow.

As for Kyrgyzstan’s stability itself, the government has never had a terribly strong hold on some parts of the country. Violent suppression of protests would be a mistake – it only made matters worse in Aksy when five protesters were killed a few years ago.

The best path to stability is to negotiate, open the system up, allow more competitive elections. Societies need ways to let off steam and Kyrgyzstan is losing its (which, by the way, has much more to do with the protests – not the US interference and encouragement you seem to suggest is behind them).

Laurence March 21, 2005 at 9:34 am

Hi Nathan, I wasn’t criticizing you, you can support whatever side you like. I’m saying it parallels US support for this Tulip Revolution.

As I said, I’m no expert in Kyrgyzstan, but as you point out Tajikistan had a terrible civil war, and I’m not sure Russia is entirely to blame for that tragedy , given what happened in Afghanistan and Iran, not to mention fighting between Armenia and Azerbijan, as well as in Georgia, Moldova, Yugoslavia and so forth. And Eastern Europe is not home tfor Islamist terror cells.

What is there to negotiate here? What would be in it for Akayev? Or Russia? And if they have nothing to gain from negotiations, why should they?

Laurence March 21, 2005 at 9:38 am

BTW Ailey’s blog is really interesting, especially what she says about Alaska.Russians in Moscow also talked about it being part of Russia, when I was living there. They said we cheated them–and I replied that it was called “Seward’s Folly” at the time, because the US Government paid so much for it in the first place!

Ben March 21, 2005 at 9:50 am

One has to be cautious about parallels to the Tajik Civil War. Russia’s influence in the turmoil after independence should not be overestimated.

Russian troops that remained in Tajikistan after 1991 could have intervened and stopped the bloodshed. Still, the regiment while under Russian flag was by that time already fully made up by ethnic Tajiks, making any intervention incredibly difficult. Blaming Russia for sowing instability is – to my mind – wrong.

Tajikistan can act as an interesting warning sign towards Kyrgyzstan. But for other reasons than hinted at here. Regional fragmentation and ethnic frictions should lay at the centre of any such analysis.

Akayev has just ordered a probe into the elections. Let’s hope that the following days will show some more pragmatism rather than sabre-rattling.

Nathan March 21, 2005 at 9:52 am

What is there to negotiate here? What would be in it for Akayev? Or Russia? And if they have nothing to gain from negotiations, why should they?

Russia should care not one whit who is running CIS countries as long they are amenable to Russia’s interests. Kyrgyzstan’s opposition says it views Russia as a special partner. Russia’s got no horse in this race.

As for Akayev, what he has to negotiate over is survival – the scope of his role in Kyrgyz politics. He’s in the same situation as Shevardnadze. If he is willing to cede some power to other politicians, he will probably be able to maintain a special place in Kyrgyz politics as an elder statesman once his term runs out.

Russia certainly wasn’t the cause of Tajikistan’s civil war. If I suggested that, it wasn’t my intention. They contributed to the instability once it was underway though.

I’ll never get the Alaska thing. I just can’t understand why Central Asians care so much about it. I always told them that even if we were right, they weren’t getting Alaska back, so what’s the big deal? Never seemed to matter to them.

Nathan March 21, 2005 at 10:00 am

I suppose I should explain that a little better. Russia sowed instability by ferrying terrorists back and forth across the Afghan border, transporting drugs across the border, and renting out weaponry to factions. I don’t think Russia saw the civil war as a situation that was really helping them out in some way.

This all could be blamed on the initiative of local troops, but considering that they’ve actively contributed to instability in Georgia and Moldova, I have to wonder…

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