With hundreds dead in southern Kyrgyzstan, demonstrating yet again the tenuous hold of the Interim Government over those regions, those of us in Bishkek are now wondering what is in store for the capital itself.
The killing seems to have lost momentum for the time being. Security forces are reaching beyond Jalalabad and Osh to smaller towns, and are claiming to have arrested and killed some of the alleged instigators of the violence. The most at-risk populations have fled to the borders or mountains, and with the remaining at-risk groups in hiding or behind barricades in their mahallas.
On Tuesday, Interim President Rosa Otunbayeva admitted she did not know if the same violence would now move to Bishkek. She described the heightened security measures that have been taken, including roadblocks at the city limits to check passengers for weapons. I passed one of these myself today – it consisted of a uniformed police officer and two guys in dirty t-shirts with kalashnikovs standing near a concrete barrier on the main road to Taraz. They were searching one BMW Mx5, which was actually heading out of the city, while dozens of cars passed by without a glance.
If the IG’s claims of paid provocateurs instigating violence are taken at face value, logically, there is no reason to assume that similar bandits can’t be found to bring the same chaos to Bishkek.
Whether or not all of the dots in Kyrgyzstan’s post-revolution instability can be connected to Bakiev’s entourage and the drug lords that supported him, it is clear that the stakes are rising with each incident. Here is the list of violent events since the April 7th overthrow, with an explanation to each, according to popular sentiment in Bishkek.
April 8-12: Political demonstrations led by Bakiev in the south
- Lore: “Attempt to rally popular support in Bakiev’s traditional power base, pitting south against north.”
- Result: several injured, Bakiev flees to Belarus.
April 19: Anti-Meskhetian Turk/Russian pogroms in the Bishkek suburb of Maevka
- Lore: “Southerners squatting outside Bishkek paid by Bakiev supporters to stir up anti-minority and anti-Bishkeker sentiment.”
- Result: several dead, handfuls wounded in pogroms, IG promises to make concessions to the squatters.
May 13-14: Attacks on government buildings in the southern capitals
- Lore: “Bakiev affiliates, patrons and drug lords fighting for economic control of the south by dividing it from the north.”
- Result: several dead, dozens wounded, no one prosecuted
June 10-14: The most recent events in Osh and Jalalabad
- Lore: “Provocateurs paid by Bakiev to foment a race war between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks”
- Result: possibly thousands dead, hardened Uzbek-Kyrgyz animosity and suspicion, widespread dissatisfaction with IG, very few apprehended
Now, with the best units of the Kyrgyz security forces drawn into the south, the north is left even less defended than usual. The interior ministry has also increased patrols and shifts, circling the streets continuously, under siren, for several nights straight. People’s Vigilantes, young male volunteers recruited by youth movements and sports clubs to keep peace in the city have also been patrolling the streets on foot and in city busses. One of their leaders claimed that there were not enough volunteers to secure the capital, the leader of another group claimed that the question is of quality, not quantity. (http://kg.akipress.org/news:221431) Interim Prosecutor General Beknazarov has announced plans to subordinate, organize, and these groups under the auspices of the interior ministry, but it is not clear how (or whether) this will be done. For the time being, there is little oversight. There are at least eight in Bishkek alone, all reporting to different organizers, nearly all consisting of young, underutilized, men.
Otunbayeva claims that the referendum planned for June 27, and designed to legitimize the IG and the term of Interim President Otunbayeva through the end of 2011, is assumed by all to be the next target for immediate disruptions. By Friday afternoon, the rumors, assumptions, and conspiracy theories of how the capital will descend into the abyss have hit reached their logical extremes:
Political demonstrations to take place on Monday and Tuesday
- Provocateurs will start shooting people over the weekend
- Bombings will target Narodniy supermarkets
Each of the major violent confrontations to occur since the overthrow of Bakiev have mixed race/class tensions, regional divides, and/or drug mafias with politics. Is there a combination and concentration of these elements that is sufficient to send the capital into the abyss?
The IG is struggling to project power anywhere. International forces are hesitating to get involved. A currency devaluation is all but inevitable. There are angry, desperate, under-educated and listless populations across the country.
The whole country seems to hold together through momentum and precedent. These are its main elements of strength and cohesion, until they are proven insufficient and rendered meaningless.