The Mayor of Bishkek

by Nathan Hamm on 8/21/2010 · 7 comments

It has often been said that Hamid Karzai’s authority as president of Afghanistan means he is effectively the mayor of Kabul. The way things are going in Kyrgyzstan, Otunbaeva’s government is looking more and more like Bishkek’s city government.

Melis Myrzakmatov, the mayor of Osh and a thorn in the side of the new government since it came to power, has again poked Otunbaeva’s government in the eye, fending off an attempt to remove him (which may have involved making empty promise to the central government). And to put an exclamation point on his resistance, he explicitly rejected the authority of the central government in southern Kyrgyzstan in an interview with Kommersant.

In an interview printed on August 19, the Kommersant daily quoted Myrzakmatov as saying that the provisional government in Bishkek, 750 kilometers to the North, has no jurisdiction in the South, an area where Bakiyev still enjoys considerable support. “Provisional government directives have no legal force in the South,” Myrzakmatov told Kommersant. “I am responsible for Osh, and just let anyone try to violate our rules.”

Myrzakmatov has repeatedly claimed that he speaks for the people of Osh and his supporters (or friends, family, and clients, some say) have rallied to emphasize to Bishkek that replacing the mayor risks unrest. Up to several thousand supporters, some of whom appear to have turned out in genuine support and admiration for Myrzakmatov’s willingness to stand up to the Uzbek community,” rallied in Osh on the mayor’s behalf while he was still in Bishkek. Myrzakmatov apparently can now also count on assistance from Deputy Prime Minister Azimbek Beknazarov who declared his support for the mayor (and interestingly was heckled and attacked at the rally in Osh).

The continued defiance of Myrzakmatov keeps on proving what many suspect — that Otunbaeva’s government lacks the ability to enforce its authority in regions far from the capital. Edil Baisalov called Myrzakmatov, “a threat to the stability of the country.” And he is doubly so by directly challenging the government and demonstrating to other political actors that there are no consequences for challenging them.


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– 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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{ 7 comments }

Dilshod August 21, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Of course they will “genuinely” love him, he let them rob and kill and rape much envied and hated Uzbeks. And now I hope all kinds of admirers of multicoloured revolutions understand how the Kirgiz revolution of 2005 , romantically naively called “Tulip revolution”, was made. Power base of The Bakievs and el. (Co.) lies in the area where drugs producted and trafficked. Major KG criminal groups were based and operating there, infilitrating and corrupting the government and law enforcement. But who will dare to acknowledge it now? No one, including some in the US who carefully helped nurture the “Cannabis” revolution. Who will kill own child? (it’s rhetoric).

Schwartz August 22, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Hey Nathan, during the same rally, Myrzakmatov seemed to make overtures to the government of Uzbekistan:

“They kept me in Bishkek for three days, saying that [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov wants me to resign… [Karimov is] a leader of the whole Muslim world and of Central Asia. He will never say that I should resign. He would never go along with the current powerless [Kyrgyz] government.”

If my interpretation is correct, then it remains to be seen whether Uzbekistan will actually bite the hook. On the one hand, he has valuable drug trafficking connections, which would appeal to certain families and ministries, but on the other hand, for precisely that reason, he worries others. What do you think?

Turgai Sangar August 23, 2010 at 9:31 am

He’s bluffing, that’s all.

Dilshod August 23, 2010 at 12:18 pm

My 5c of speculation, reconstruction: Uzbek gov’t communicates to Otunbaeva its concern with Myrzakmetovs plans and statements. Otunbaeva calls him to Bishkek to get his loyalty but sees he’s too powerful for her to deal with and says Karimov wants him out. Myrzakmetov employes his sources and finds out it is not true, but still there’s concern. So he looks around for support and gets it (when on earth nationalists would lack support), Beknazarov is behind him too. So he basically says with his re-appearance that he enjoys real support in contrast with Otunbaeva who is more of formality figure. He also sends a message that he will continue what has been doing. / What we are witnessing now in Kirgizstan is consolidation of nationalism, pure and genuine. But what is in the media these days is about “development of parliamentary democracy in Kirgizstan. Isn’t it wonderful?

Myles Smith August 23, 2010 at 9:59 pm

I assume you’re refering to the Western media. While we’d probably agree there is less coverage of the crisis than there should be, I don’t see much flag-waiving and cheerleading for democracy here. In fact, I don’t even see the word.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/15/world/asia/15kyrgyz.html?_r=1&ref=kyrgyzstan
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/kyrgyzstan/7956587/Kyrgyzstan-president-undermined-weeks-before-election.html
http://news.scotsman.com/world/Kyrgyz-rebel-mayor-makes-a.6487132.jp
http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/08/16/kyrgyzstan.report/#fbid=75QIvTYD-iu&wom=false

Most of the Kyrgyz I talk to here in Bishkek claim that the Western media has an anti-Kyrgyz bias. Foreign reporters and cameramen are routinely intimidated by Kyrgyz in the South these days.

Both sides are trying to claim the victim role, and since there is no effort to investigate, publicize, and then deal with the facts, whatever they are, we can expect denial and antagonism to worsen indefinitely. I would say even the foreign media portrays the situation this way.

Turgai Sangar August 24, 2010 at 9:48 am

Justice will be done by itself. Even if they do find temporary common ground in nationalism, criminals and mobsters are by nature jackals who eventually tear each other up in the end. Myrkzakmatov will end up like Bayaman Erkinbayev.

You know, normally I don’t take sides in this. Yet the way things are going now, the Kyrgyz do discredit themselves by buying into the nationalist trip.

Metin August 29, 2010 at 3:12 am

what’s happening in Kyrgyzstan is a big setback for institutions promoting Human Rights and Democracy. Despite being the most active, they failed to instill values they promote in this country. Instead, they indeliberately contributed to the rise of nationalism and lawlessness. They are morally obliged to rectify the situation, but seem doing very little for it.

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