Guest Post: Surprise Ending — It Never Ends

by Myles G. Smith on 5/14/2010 · 26 comments

The following is a guest post from Myles Smith, who currently works in Kyrgyzstan and has worked in the past throughout Central Asia. — Nathan

Though it had been a few days since anything bad had happened in Kyrgyzstan, no one was expecting a trend.

According to reports from AkiPress,,, and other local sources, counter-revolutionary forces took the regional administration building in Osh and Batken yesterday, and may have kidnapped the governor of Jalal-Abad Province.

On Thursday evening, Otunbayeva named Defense Minister Isakov the PG Special Representative for the Southern Region. Seems that he is basically in charge of everything, which might be a welcome change from no one being in charge of anything. This may explain the rumor that circulated the city this evening that the Provisional Government (PG) had been overthrown by the military (ostensibly because Putin was tired of waiting for the ‘pro-Russian’ revolution to start paying pro-Russian dividends).

In Bishkek, competing demonstrations through the last few days have called for the reinstatement of the popular Mayor of Bishkek Tyuleev, others called for the distribution of land rights, still others protested the proposed removal of the word ‘secular’ from the description of the nation in the draft Constitution.

All told, the numbers involved appear to be small. No more than 3000 were demonstrating on the Old Square and Ala-Too square at any point in the last two days, inclusive of all positions.

The overtly counter-revolutionary forces were still smaller. In Osh, it seems a group of 500 supporters of the former governor were enough to force the PG-appointed governor to negotiate, while in Batken, no more than 150 were involved in retaking the regional capital.

If the PG can’t muster the force necessary to hold their regional capitals against a few hundred men, it is hard to see what hope the government has to make it to September. Its already gotten to the point where the stated PG endgame: a new constitution, referendum, elections, and a democratic parliamentary government by Fall; is considered likely by approximately no one.

UPDATE: By midnight on Thursday, the same sources were reporting that these points were retaken by PG forces. PG Minister of Finance – yes, finance – Temir Sariev announced on state television that Isakov and Interior Minister Alymbekov were in the South and on the job.

Jalalabad PG Governor Asanov reappeared on AkiPress, announcing that the Bakiev supporters who had taken his office would be arrested Friday. He boasted that they numbered only 60, so it should be an easy task. Hopefully he will pardon those of us in Bishkek for our lack of faith: he also announced that a new security force would be formed, assumedly from his own supporters, as local police had deserted their posts the previous day.

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This post was written by...

– author of 12 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Myles G. Smith is a project manager, consultant, and independent analyst based in Central Asia. His writing appears regularly at, the Jamestown Foundation, and the Central Asia and Caucasus Institute. He is currently based in Kyrgyzstan, has lived in Turkmenistan and Russia and worked throughout the former Soviet Union. In the process of his work, he regularly consults a wide range of experts, officials, activists, journalists, academics, diplomats and entrepreneurs in the region. He is proficient in Russian.

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Jack May 14, 2010 at 1:49 pm

“he also announced that a new security force would be formed, assumedly from his own supporters”

Well then. See you in 15 years after the government is overthrown by some religious group in a civil war.

Turgai Sangar May 15, 2010 at 4:52 pm

You can also see it this way: when Islam comes as salvation after a civil war among the kafir and the secularists.

Reader May 14, 2010 at 2:13 pm

In MY opinion (not scientific) Kyrgyz do not have a highly structured culture therefore they are not strict managers. That is not a put-down. It is just a neutral observation based on my personal experiences with them. Back when the Soviet Union first collapsed the Kyrgyz forcibly took over many the businesses in towns from minority folks but after a few years of businesses going bust they hired the original owners in order to make it run efficiently. Disclosure: this is anecdotal.

That’s why their police didn’t act like Uzbekistan’s police and stop the demonstrations by comfortably shooting at whoever, but instead collapsed. I can imagine how badly those policemen must have been feeling inside having to shoot at their brethren. You can see the reluctance in their faces in one of those pictures. That’s why they didn’t learn from their past experience and close the roads around their white house to keep demonstrators at bay.

That’s why they are having the troubles they are having now trying to put together a governing body. That’s why they will depend on big brother bear or uncle Sam to hold do it for them.

I have nothing against Kyrgyz people. In fact I respect their freedom loving traditions a lot. I just think there is a clash of culture (pastoralism) with modernity (institutionalism) going on here that no one else has noted.

More anecdotal, possibly offensive (please excuse me), thoughts from Central Asians I have spoken to: Kyrgyz do not keep their homes clean (said by Uzbek), Kyrgyz don’t know how to cook (said by Uighur), Kyrgyz drink like Russians (said by Kyrgyz), Kyrgyz have no “culture” (said by Russian), Kyrgyz hate “us” (said by Meshketian Turk), Kyrgyz should go back to mountains (said by Dungan).

Michael Hancock May 14, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Bullshit. In my opinion. That’s not scientific. I just think that’s a horribly racist perspective.

Reader May 14, 2010 at 4:43 pm

Michael, I’m sorry you are offended. I also apologize to Kyrgyz people who are offended. I said it in my post, this is not scientific and it is just my opinion based on anecdotes. It may be racist to you but it is a fact of life in Kyrgyzstan. I did not make up those comments. We should be able to discuss things that are offensive to some people without malicious intention to offend. Otherwise scholarship will be blinded by science.

Reader May 14, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Bakiev was obviously subsidizing government utilities by cash revenue from fuel sales to US. When Russia fiendishly raised the tax for fuel exclusively to Kyrgyzstan, Bakiev did not have enough cash to pay for fuel, so he cut the utilities subsidies thereby raising the rates triple and quadruple to citizens. That’s incompetent politics on top of bad economics. Yeah, we know Kyrgyzstan does not have many sources of revenue, but you don’t use a temporary source of income to pay for your overhead, come on! …

I believe Soviet Union still exists by degrees. Soviet pensions are still paid, utilities are still subsidized, etc. These social services are contributing to some stability but they are also keeping the governments indebted and poor.

Metin May 14, 2010 at 3:13 pm

I agree with observation; nothing is racist here. Every nation goes from savagery to civilization. Kyrgyz, not long time nomads with no statehood traditions, are going through this. Hopefully they’re learning from experience.

Myles May 15, 2010 at 3:43 am

‘Revolutioning’ is becoming more like a sport than a life-and-death struggle. It is encouraging that relatively few people have been killed, compared to the numbers involved. Reports today are that only two were killed yesterday.

But otherwise, the near-to-medium term picture is pretty grim. The Customs Union is going to significantly reduce income from the China-Russia transit trade, as well as raise import prices, tourism will suffer through this summer, and permitting and foreign investment in new mining operations are stalling as well. The poor economy is feeding everyone’s discontent, and it shows no signs of stopping.

Kyrgyzstan’s neighbors could help by opening their borders, but the neighbors are more concerned with containment of revolutionary impulse. Russia could do much by stating its intention to maintain the previous free trade agreement with Kyrgyzstan, but they have made no clear statements on this issue, and are holding on to that leverage for now.

Metin May 15, 2010 at 4:16 am

Kyrgyzstan’s neighbors could help by opening their borders, but the neighbors are more concerned with containment of revolutionary impulse.

true, but this is logical approach. I don’t think US would happily open its border with Mexico if it was ruled by provisional government with dubious legitimacy not yet capable of controlling its territory. Ultimately, things depend on Kyrgyz, not on its neighbors.

Myles May 15, 2010 at 4:23 am

You’re absolutely right, the US would not open its borders and Mexico would suffer for it.

I understand why they are keeping the borders closed, but that does not change the fact that its strangling the KG economy. One might even argue that isolating and contributing to the abnormal situation is helping perpetuate the problem.

Though I agree, ultimate responsibility to be patient, realistic, and constructive does lay with the Kyrgyz, and we haven’t seen nearly enough of that yet.

Toaf May 15, 2010 at 7:21 am

Really interesting post. For mine, these post-revolt spasms are intended to test the unity of the interim government and the ability of its mediator/leader. The fact that the interim government was able to regain control relatively quickly is promising. I share the doubts expressed by others, though, that it can hold things together for the several months required to consolidate and hold elections.

Myles May 15, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Of course, with the centralized nature of the Soviet system, all income flowed up to the top and subsidies went down from the top. But do you really believe that Kyrgyzstan was subsidizing Moscow and not the other way around? It is fairly widely accepted that Russia subsidized Central Asia, and I’d be interested to see your evidence to the contrary. Your assertion sounds like revisionist history, and again, I’d like to see your evidence.

This research also attempts to examine the complex subsidy story. Any way they sliced it, no matter which prices they used, they found Kyrgyzstan’s consumption was heavily subsidized by Moscow. (pages 177, 179, 945, 946)

Grant May 16, 2010 at 4:03 am

Should we really call them ‘counter-revolutionary’ in this case? Historically that term (when accurate) has meant conservatives opposing a revolution in the political system and I am still skeptical of claims that the provisional government (PG) is really revolutionary. With that in mind the anti-PG actions seem more in support of their own politician than counter-revolutionary (unless we consider Bakiyev to have been the pre-2010 system).
On numbers, don’t forget that the 2002 Aksy, 2005 ‘Tulip’, and 2010 protests usually never numbered more than a few thousand to the best of my knowledge. With difficult terrain and a relatively small police/military, small numbers of protesters can have a larger effect than in a flatter nation with stronger security.
For the longer term picture, I think this is another sign that the PG will need to rely more on Russia for security and stability. The PG will need loyal forces for its survival, and Russia can provide money and training.

Smith May 16, 2010 at 10:27 am

You have an argument on the semantics, and I probably could have more accurately said ‘Pro-Bakiev’, though even that term has its problems. Many of these elements may have been out for their own interests (positions in government, businesses, family connections) rather than true belief that Bakiev is the best thing for the country. In a sense, they are conservative and ‘counter-revolutionary’ in that they are resisting change: they liked things the way they were before the leadership turned over.

But I think we’d all agree that the PG is less than ‘revolutionary’ in a 19th century European sense. Most people seem to think they Atambayev, Sariev, Tekebayev, etc, are the same stuff with different names. The PG does enjoy the support of the ‘pro-democracy’ portions of society, for what that is worth. Other than that, any support they have otherwise is based on the fact so few supporters of Bakiev remained by April, particularly outside of Jalalabad.

I also agree with you that a small number can push a lot of weight here. There have been no demonstrations in Bishkek that have been overtly ‘Pro-Bakiev’, and thus no sign thus far that his people can muster a show of strength here for now. But, things can change.

Metin May 19, 2010 at 4:14 pm

When things go wrong, it is often the case that outsiders become scape goats. I just thought, maybe some folks here are on the wrong side blaming IFI for Kyrgyz failure. What would have been if reforms proposed by IFI were not implemented? would KG not have become more prosperous or a failed state much earlier?
what was so wrong in IFI projects in KG?

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