The End of the Beginning

by Gene Daniels on 2/12/2006 · 9 comments

The IWPR has another article about the current situation in Kyrgyzstan entitled “End of the Beginning.” Its basic premise is that what we see today in Kyrgyzstan is no more than “the fall-out from the change of regime in March 2005, which produced what one might term a wave of democratisation.” The article makes a number of good points, and it is always good to be as positive as possible, but the writer’s analysis breaks down at several points.

For example, while I agree that the complete “Afghanification” of Kyrgyzstan is unlikely, the fact is, large numbers of non-Kyrgyz citizens report having purchased weapons in the last 6-8 months, and there are numerous accounts of old AK-47s from Afghanistan for sale in the South for 4,000 som (just under $100).

And in suggesting that Kyrgyzstan is not likely to move into such a massively destructive conflict it argues:

“And even when such a conflict arises, the participants will only fight to the bitter end if they feel that there is no other way, and that all attempts at compromise have been exhausted. This was shown by the recent clash between Kyrgyz and ethnic Dungans in a village in the Chui region.”

It fails to mention that the conflict only ended when a 250-strong contingent from the NSS arrived and used tear-gas to disperse the fighting. Hardly a case of compromise.

Another incidence of this overly optimistic tone is found here:

“The ability to arrive at mutually beneficial arrangements is traditional to Kyrgyz society. This characteristic was shown both in the ease with which the country got through the difficult period of the July presidential election…””

Based on personal observations in the South, getting through the presidential elections in July with peace was more a matter of the high expectations that everyone placed on the Bakiev-Kulov tandem, rather than a society-wide ability to negotiate “mutually beneficial arrangements.”

The author continues by saying:

It thus seems more appropriate to see these conflicts [among the elites] as the unavoidable, and even positive, concomitants of social change…The positive aspect is that people in Kyrgyzstan are learning the art of living in a situation in which multiple interests collide.

Yes, the people of Kyrgyzstan are learning to live with the chaos of a power vacuum, but I seriously doubt that anyone besides the political elite and mafia consider it positive.

If Kyrgyzstan today is an example of a “wave of democratization,” then one can understand why most regional leaders are avoiding this Western idea like the plague.

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Kuda February 13, 2006 at 7:26 am

Hi there,

A few points. You noted that “large numbers of non-Kyrgyz citizens report having purchased weapons in the last 6-8 months”. I have not heard this exactly, but I am no doubting it outright. A question; where has this been reported? And are the numbers large? Where are the non-Kyrgyz from?

Gene liked the insight though. Do you see a North-South split happening in the near future? I fear summer may bring more widespread disturbances.

Brian February 13, 2006 at 5:33 pm

You know, I do think that people are being perhaps too critical with things so early on. Compared to Ukraine and Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, as an Asian nation, has had practially no exposure to democracy and has much less international help from full-fledged democracies. There was bound to be turmoil after the revolution – there no way ANY leader could have prevented some of this turmoil without shooting a lot people. It’s unfair to judge things without this context.

Things certainly could be better; Bakiev doesn’t seem to be the most competent, pro-democracy leader in the world. However, what’s in the headlines this week in Central Asia? The Kyrgyz speaker calls the president a dog on TV and isn’t immeditately locked up in prison like would happen in any neigboring country, and many top interior ministry positions are purged after an uproar. Meanwhile in Kazakhstan an opposition leader is murdered, in Uzbekistan the trials of Umarov and Khidoyatova go on, and in Turkmenistan pensions are slashed and an old man is put in jail for getting upset about it.

As long as the government can hold the country together, a big if, I think Kyrgyzstan is better positioned for development in the long term than it was before the revolution.

Gene Daniels February 13, 2006 at 5:41 pm

To reply to Kudas question about where the information about large numbers of non-Kyrgyz purchasing weapons, the short answer is it is from personal responses. I am an ethnographic researcher in Kyrgyzstan, and I have personally recieved many reports of weapons purchases since the revolution, esp. from non-Kyrgyz such as Uzbeks and Kurds.

Brian February 13, 2006 at 6:20 pm

Gene, is the purchase of weapons a survey question or something? Does the survey ask why? It seems likely that the purchase of weapons by non-Kyrgyz may be for defensive reasons rather than offensive. Hearing of ethnic clashes, it may have gotten some people of minority groups worried enough to pack heat. This isn’t a good sign for sure, but wis better than those weapons being purchased by groups for offensive reasons.

Gene Daniels February 14, 2006 at 6:49 pm

The purchase of weapons I mentioned is simply a topic that has often come up in conversations with people; taxi drivers, workers in bazaars, etc when I ask them about their feelings on the security in the country. My observations on this point are just that, observations.

And to answer Kudus question about purpose of these purchases, offensive or defensive, in each case it was in the context of a perceived lack of societal security, or the need to defend oneself and family. So we would say that they were thinking defensively.

However, while that is basically a good thing, the line between “defense”
and “offense” is more semantic than ontological in a context where there is
instability, deep ethnic distrust, and memories of 1990 in Osh.

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