Aidaraliev’s gambit

by Daniel Koehler on 7/23/2007 · 8 comments

It is well known that regionalism plays a significant role in the politics of Kyrgyzstan. In fact, the Tulip Revolution was primarily the result of constituents in the country’s south rallying behind the banner of local elites. The main opposition movement, the People’s Movement of Kyrgyzstan, did little more than bring these disparate protests together. This might explain why Jalalabad governor Iskender Aidaraliev is so keen for the Kyrgyz capital to be relocated.

Ostensibly, the goal of relocation would be to ensure Kyrgyzstan’s territorial integrity – as Aidaraliev says, 70-80% of Kyrgyzstan’s immigrants are in the country’s South, while the region faces pressure from its geographical proximity to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. Fair enough, we may say. After all, Kazakhstan set the precedent for such measures when it relocated its capital to Astana in the largely Russian-speaking north, a move which seemed to have the very same goal. But there is a fundamental difference between the situation in Kazakhstan and that in Kyrgyzstan. While Uzbeks constitute no more than 15 % of the Kyrgyz population, and Russians even less, ethnic Russians make up almost half the population of Kazakhstan. Aidaraliev’s statistic of 70-80% of all migrants is therefore somewhat misleading as far as threats to territorial integrity are concerned. Although ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan have recently been active in demanding greater rights, nothing approaching a secessionist threat has materialized.

The suggestion, then, is probably not motivated by national concerns. It seems more likely that Aidaraliev is trying to validate his power in a region that is largely foreign to him. The governor began his political career in Northern Kyrgyzstan and his position is clearly shaky – he has proven unwilling to take action against widespread theft of property in his province. Jalalabad is Bakiev’s hometown, but the President has been serving in the north of the country for several years (since long before the Tulip Revolution brought him to power) and presumably does not wield as much influence in the south as he might have done before – since he has remained in power in Bishkek, some of his allegiances must have shifted across the country’s north-south divide. Bakiev appointed Aidaraliev as governor in early 2006, much to the chagrin of locals, many of whom protested in support of the previous incumbent. If the capital were to move to Osh, Aidaraliev could benefit politically. If the move were endorsed by him, he would be able to present himself as representing the interests of the traditionally underdeveloped South while his appointment’s legitimacy would derive from a southern rather than a northern regime.


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Daniel graduated from Oberlin College in 2007 with a B.A. in economics and politics. He is hoping to spend the next academic year teaching English in Turkey before applying to graduate school.

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{ 8 comments }

Kevin July 24, 2007 at 2:08 am

Although, I see few benefits or any realistic feasibility of moving the capitol to Osh or anywhere outside of Bishkek, the one advantage is the low cost of living. The cost of housing and food in Bishkek has increased in the last few years. This particularly affects government workers who must subsit on salaries that range between $7-100/month. But, of course, how can a government that pays librarians at the national library $7/month afford to move its government center to Osh?

Another concern is locating in the volatile Fergana valley, which presents high risk in lsituating a capital only 2-3 kilometers from the Uzbek border.

The arguments agains this incredulous suggestion can just go on an on. But, given the Kyrgyz uninhibited political culture, anything is possible!

edil July 24, 2007 at 3:17 am

Aidaraliev is a Talas native and a total outsider not only to the South and the Revolutionary Camp (so to speak), but generally in post-Tulip KG – a typical holdover from Akaev times shuffled to Jalalabad from Talas to strengthen Bakiev’s claims of region-blind policy.

He is not a real gov in Jalabad either, if we believe numerous reports of one of the Bakiev brothers (formerly bazaar trader) taking care of all important and not so important matters.

The only intrigue about this article is if Aidaraliev was nudged to write this article from above or from the Family, or if it is his own initiative to please the boss(es). Whatever it is – Aidaraliev is a non-entity and there is no chance of him benefitting personally from the move.

The idea of moving the capital is unreal – since mid-90s when it was first floated by Madumarov, Masaliev-elder and the like – a more realistic plan is being implemented of turning Bishkek into a ‘truly’ national capital with migration, transfering Osh university students into Bishkek, etc.

Partial Observer July 24, 2007 at 3:44 am

Edil’s right about Aidaraliev being swopped with Jeenbekov by Bakiev, but I don’t think it was because the President wanted to appear region-blind. It was because Jeenbekov had a strong power base in Jalalabat in opposition to Bakiev’s brother (whom Edil also mentions). Jeenbekov’s people didn’t allow the President to sack him, so Bakiev had to swop him with Aidaraliev, who had been Talas governor, to save face.

That said, I’ve no idea what Aidaraliev’s game is now. I know Kyrgyzstan can’t afford to move the capital, but at least being in Osh would help northern media and political actors understand the south better. There’s a big information vacuum in the country, particularly on the northern side.

edil July 24, 2007 at 4:23 am

‘understand the south better’

I think everybody has moved beyond the denial but the north-south divide is still grossly exaggerated and abused by likes of Bakiev (whose only credential is now that he is fulfilling the ‘southern dream’) and H.R.H. Bermet A. who wants to cut the country into pieces by federalizing KG.

Let’s not play by ‘their’ games…

I don’t know if I’m suggesting that we drop this N&S language all together, but we do know that we have to start from semantics before (can’t help but think of the way how Americans worked on their language before solving the race issues)

Partial Observer July 24, 2007 at 6:40 am

Edil, I think what you want with regard to elections is great – and I’m hopeful that with the Coalition’s help we might have fair elections in Kyrgyzstan in the future. I agree about Princess Bermet. I don’t even mind that you’re funded by the Americans! But…

Bakiev’s “only credential is now that he is fulfilling the ’southern dream’”. I’m afraid I haven’t heard of the ‘southern dream’ – what is it? Maybe I’ve just missed mention of it over the past couple of years.

Bakiev isn’t popular in southern Kyrgyzstan, except among a few family members, co-villagers and cronies. The majority of the people realised long ago that he doesn’t have much interest in improving their lives. But many have seen the opposition demonstrations (admittedly through slanted media) and not seen any viable alternative governments.

I appreciate it’s been difficult for you and your Coalition to work in the south, because of harassment from the March defenders or whatever they call themselves. But now they seem to be getting their come-uppance, maybe it’s time for you and your colleagues to spend more time in the Osh area (see – I avoided the “S” word!) – not to teach people about democracy, but to listen to what peoples’ real needs and aspirations are.

Once at a demonstration you decried the people mainly from the Balykchy area (your home town?) that came out in support of Ryspek – you said in front of hundreds of Bishkek NGO activists something like “they say they are the people, but WE are the people.” But aren’t they the people as well, even if they had been seduced by a gangster? And people in Osh and Jalalabat and Batken are also the people.

Sorry for the long post – I hope you realise that I’m trying to be helpful and not rude.

edil July 24, 2007 at 9:37 am

Dear Partial Observer,

thank you for your helpful reply. I am afraid that you misunderstand the nature of our work at the Coalition – we’re not only about elections or ‘teaching people about democracy’. We didn’t have any major recent problems working in the ‘Osh area’ recently – in fact, we had seen much worse in Akaev times all around the country, and we have a very dedicated team of members and staff in Jalalabad and elsewhere.

The political situation overall is very difficult, indeed. NGOs can’t influence much in a very polarized and divided country (it is not anymore who’s right or wrong; but either with us or against; with the N or S; pro-Bakiev and anti). I blame the opposition (Tekebaev&Sariev), Kulov, newspaper Agym for bringing the country to this point – their actions even before the April fiasco minimized any possibility for a rational debate and democratic deliberations (and hence greatly marginilized NGOs’ profile).

The people (incl.myself and family) were terrified in April with the very real threat of a civil war. We all felt very relieved with the outcome but I’m afraid (and the recent IRI poll proves it) there is a great popular fatigue and disillusionment (and, yes, even in myself). Bakiev IS popular, no wishful thinking there, in some N quarters because he represents relative stability. In the S he succeeded (with Agym’s help)in turning himself into a story of a ‘southern boy’ achieving national power but being sabotaged by the ‘northern establishment’ (that includes NGOs as well).

After initial post-Tulip celebration of NGOs as national heroes, now in the atmosphere of total cynicism and disappointment, the same NGOs are an easy target to blame: we don’t have democracy that you promised and received zillions of dollars for.

NGOs are also taking the hit of the very rapid increase of anti-american sentiment (btw, the coalition hasn’t receved a dime of US funding since Feb’06, and thanks God for that, we can only imagine what sort of troubles and serious govt harassment (and as some friends tell us even persecution) we would have faced otherwise).

My hometown is Naryn (my maternal side comes from around Balykchi) but when I said about ‘us the people’, I referred to Bakiev’s welcome to Ryspek’s supporters as the ‘people whose concerns have to be respected’ (as he promised the next day Ryspek was reinstated as candidate). Before that April 8 march we hadn’t organized any rallies (except for that Oct’05 showdown) – so yes, I did call for some show of peoplepower (and if you remember some very good rallies of Apr 29, May 27 and Nov followed).

And, the final piece of of self-promotion, since July 10 I left the Coalition staff (if you’re interested: I intended to quit last summer but had to stay because of the PNG scandal) – it is difficult for the organization to function if they’re perceived everywhere as ‘baisalov’s people’ instead of representing the mission, etc. – the same story happened to our founder Tolekan Ismailova in 2002.

But I do intend to stay active so let’s keep in touch 🙂

edil July 24, 2007 at 9:37 am

Dear Partial Observer,

thank you for your helpful reply. I am afraid that you misunderstand the nature of our work at the Coalition – we’re not only about elections or ‘teaching people about democracy’. We didn’t have any major recent problems working in the ‘Osh area’ recently – in fact, we had seen much worse in Akaev times all around the country, and we have a very dedicated team of members and staff in Jalalabad and elsewhere.

The political situation overall is very difficult, indeed. NGOs can’t influence much in a very polarized and divided country (it is not anymore who’s right or wrong; but either with us or against; with the N or S; pro-Bakiev and anti). I blame the opposition (Tekebaev&Sariev), Kulov, newspaper Agym for bringing the country to this point – their actions even before the April fiasco minimized any possibility for a rational debate and democratic deliberations (and hence greatly marginilized NGOs’ profile).

The people (incl.myself and family) were terrified in April with the very real threat of a civil war. We all felt very relieved with the outcome but I’m afraid (and the recent IRI poll proves it) there is a great popular fatigue and disillusionment (and, yes, even in myself). Bakiev IS popular, no wishful thinking there, in some N quarters because he represents relative stability. In the S he succeeded (with Agym’s help)in turning himself into a story of a ‘southern boy’ achieving national power but being sabotaged by the ‘northern establishment’ (that includes NGOs as well).

After initial post-Tulip celebration of NGOs as national heroes, now in the atmosphere of total cynicism and disappointment, the same NGOs are an easy target to blame: we don’t have democracy that you promised and received zillions of dollars for.

NGOs are also taking the hit of the very rapid increase of anti-american sentiment (btw, the coalition hasn’t receved a dime of US funding since Feb’06, and thanks God for that, we can only imagine what sort of troubles and serious govt harassment (and as some friends tell us even persecution) we would have faced otherwise).

My hometown is Naryn (my maternal side comes from around Balykchi) but when I said about ‘us the people’, I referred to Bakiev’s welcome to Ryspek’s supporters as the ‘people whose concerns have to be respected’ (as he promised the next day Ryspek was reinstated as candidate). Before that April 8 march we hadn’t organized any rallies (except for that Oct’05 showdown) – so yes, I did call for some show of peoplepower (and if you remember some very good rallies of Apr 29, May 27 and Nov followed).

And, the final piece of of self-promotion, since July 10 I left the Coalition staff (if you’re interested: I intended to quit last summer but had to stay because of the PNG scandal) – it is difficult for the organization to function if they’re perceived everywhere as ‘baisalov’s people’ instead of representing the mission, etc. – the same story happened to our founder Tolekan Ismailova in 2002.

But I do intend to stay active so let’s keep in touch 🙂

Partial Observer July 24, 2007 at 8:21 pm

Edil,

Many thanks for the information and taking the time to respond to my queries and statements – it’s very helpful to hear directly from you on these issues. Good luck for the future!

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