By Ryskeldi Satke
Grievances over violence that shooked a tiny nation of Kyrgyz Republic are still being felt in the northern and southern provinces of the country where widespread massacres took place during spring-summer of 2010. There have been a few attempts by domestic and international commissions to find root causes of the conflict between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks but neither of them was able to fill the gaps that were left unanswered for broader public. Although findings of multiple investigations partially implicated the Government of Kyrgyzstan in number of negligence showcases. Nevertheless, justice is wished to be there as in South Kyrgyzstan. Several reports from international organizations indicated involvement of the Kyrgyz police and military in the ethnic strife on the side of the mob groups rampaging through ethnic Uzbek neighborhoods in the cities of Osh and Jalal Abad. Kyrgyz officials stick to original statements announced by the State Security Department (GKNB) accusing the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Union, Taliban, ex-President Bakiyev family members and ethnic Uzbek political figures in fomenting the violence.
Yet, Kyrgyz authorities have not presented sufficient evidence of IMU/IJU or the Taliban’s role in the conflict which are allegedly behind the atrocities. Bakiyevs, in the meantime, are out of reach for Bishkek and very unlikely to be apprehended in the near future. The only close relative to the ex-President Bakiyev, his imprisoned brother, has managed to avoid jail time by escaping from medical clinic where he was transported from penitentiary facility. What has been left to prosecute is up for grab in Kyrgyzstan and who would go as a scapegoat better than ethnic Uzbek politicians, activists and community? Rights groups repeatedly expressed concerns over torture practices in the prisons, public safety issues in the courtrooms (specifically in the South) and extortion by policemen. The aftermath of June 2010 violence has created massive exodus of the ethnic Uzbek population out of southern provinces of the Kyrgyz Republic to abroad states like Russia and elsewhere. According to various sources a number of outflow from South Kyrgyzstan ranges between 70 000 to 100 000 people since 2010. Experts and analysts agree that overwhelming majority of leaving are Uzbeks.
The public opinion in the South of the country reflects offical line that places burden on ethnic Uzbek community for planting hostility between Kyrgyz and the latter during violent regime change in the North followed by tense political struggle in the South. There is no secret that the opposition figures of the coalition, then headed by former diplomat Roza Otunbayeva, have offered high ranking positions in the new Government of the republic to leaders of the Uzbek diaspora in exchange for support in the South where Bakiyev’s base was threatening to shake up the status of the Interim Government. One of the heavyweights in the politics of southern Kyrgyz Republic, a leader of Uzbek community, Kadyrzhan Batyrov took the opportunity after negotiations with the Interim officials including close interactions with Almazbek Atambayev (currently, elected President of Kyrgyzstan).
What was next has led to catastrophic events that turned thousands of Uzbek blocks and businesses into ashes with dead bodies in the hundreds on the streets of two southern cities. The Ferghana valley became a critical hotspot in June 2010 when impending possibility of all out regional conflict was in the air. According to one report, (co-authored and published by Norwegian Helsinki Committee – Rights watchdog “Memorial”- Freedom House) the Interim Government appointees in the South were implementing defensive meausures in Osh and Jalal Abad after considering self-conflicting information collected from the bordering areas with Uzbekistan. Consequently, apparent misinformation of the crossing troops from Uzbekistan into Kyrgyz territory had caused a panic in Osh. More advertently, the scale of the chaos in the hallways of the Kyrgyz authorities during ethnic bloodshed was not much of a help in stopping the violence but contributed to the extension of horrendous attacks on the neighborhoods.
Local human rights activists and leaders of NGO’s observed indiscriminate killings on both sides of the fence but figures of the dead among Uzbeks suggested that attacks were premeditated. The case of the ethnic Uzbek activist Azimzhan Askarov highlights a story of the person who has tried to present the opposite side of the chronicle to the public but was sentenced to life in prison in Kyrgyzstan. It is widely believed inside the country and abroad that criminal charges against Askarov were fabricated to conceal the facts from areas hit by clashes. Reportedly, his documents containing video files of the escalating conflict in Jalal Abad area could have had a dramatic affect on the public view of the inter-ethnic tension. The Government of Kyrgyzstan took a hold of the Askarov’s files but still refuses to open them for publicity. The Committee to Protect Journalists states that on requests to Mrs. Otunbayeva and newly elected President Atambayev to intercede in the case of the activist, both officials have failed to address the manner in the republic. CPJ believes that Askarov’s investigation would argue credibility of the reports, approved by the Government of Kyrgyzstan, regarding the conflict.
Internal Politics of the North – South Factions
The mountainous landscape and historically attributed culture of the nomadic tribes of the country had segregated Kyrgyz nation into regional subdivisions that are known as factions of the North and South. An ongoing trend is seen as one of the contributing sources of the political instability in the Kyrgyz Republic for almost a decade. A fierce power struggle accompanied by “dog eat dog” commercial interests remain at the heart of the internal politics in the state. The geopolitical events in the region of Central Asia have reckoned with ferocity of the political development in Kyrgyzstan. Western coalition military operation in the AfPak region has raised an external pressure on dynamics of the domestic political field in the country. The regional feud between the US and Russia produced two coup d’etat occasions in Kyrgyz Republic in the past ten years. Each regime overthrow was concerted with progressing violence and destruction. The first ouster in 2005 replaced the northern figure Akayev with southerner Bakiyev.
One of the distinct charachteristics of the Kyrgyz politics represents accustomed entry of the immediate family members (or regional clans associated with a head of the state) into decision making process. In both regime change occurences the affects of the North-South factional contest paved the way to near collapse of the state in the residual after the second coup in 2010. The afterward of the latest power subversion in Kyrgyzstan followed by initiation of the parlamentarian state has failed to assemble a model for ruling elites to move ahead with long awaited reforms in the republic infested by widespread corruption in the Kyrgyz Government and constant political infighting between the factions of the North and South. Current President of the Kyrgyz Republic, Atambayev embodies the circles of the northern ruling class that is in control of the country’s national finances and resources. Meanwhile, southern Kyrgyzstan has become a major drug trafficking hub of the Afghan heroin in the region of Central Asia. UNODC’s (UN Office on Drugs and Crime) recent report states that the city of Osh is “reconnecting point of the heroin shipments from Afghanistan.”
Moreover, UN report says that organized crime groups involved in the trafficking of narcotics operate under control of high ranking officials in the Kyrgyz Government. Having said that it is more than likely that a number of public figures of the southern provinces engaged in criminal enterprises according to regional experts. Political disturbances of the last decade had exacerbated internal divide of the North-South with de-facto disintegration of the country into separate entities with the central government and provincial prefectures running on their own terms as in the case of the southern Osh, Jalal Abad and Batken provinces that are still refusing abide by the tenure of the present governatorial structure in Bishkek. Most bright example of the subdivisonal showdown was displayed during all out exchange of accusations between the Mayor of Osh city, Myrzakmatov and the Interim Government top branch then headed by President Roza Otunbayeva. Osh city mayor took the national stage after Mr.Myrzakmatov refused to step down from his position on directive issued from the central authorities in Bishkek.
The disobidience of the southern political establishment toward Bishkek had created negative image of the Government in the South already devastated by the inter-ethnic strife. Kyrgyz population in the southern provinces believes that the Interim Government abandoned the South during three days of the bloodshed in June 2010, according to reports of the local journalists. Such opinion is widely shared on the ground in Osh and Jalal Abad where breakout of violence took its peak thus underscoring the main reason of Bishkek’s ineffective governance in the South of the country. Current status quo also remains to be one of the emphasizing factors behind inability of the central Government to intervene into widespread abuses of the state laws in the matters associated with the aftermath of the conflict between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. Particularly, a subdivisional imbalance of the North-South factions added to the hardships of the ethnic Uzbek community that is already hit by the wave of persecution in disproportionate fashion.
The Russian Affairs in Kyrgyzstan
The Kremlin’s exclusive role in the internal affairs of Kyrgyzstan correlates with the shift of the regional geopolitics that was turned into motion after Central Asia became a valuable logistics hub serving needs of the western coalition troops stationed in Afghanistan. Moscow sees Kyrgyzstan as a vital piece of a strategy for power projection and influence in the region. Russia’s aggressive actions have been observed throughout the past ten years that have dramatically transformed Kyrgyzstan into a zone of the foreign military bases. The US air base “Manas” in Bishkek plays an important role in the refueling operations of the US-NATO military aircraft in Afghanistan. The western press reports state that a sizable chunk of the combat troops safely pass through Bishkek in and out of Afghanistan a fact of which makes the significance of the Kyrgyz transit hub essential to Washington’s planning.
Moscow concerned with a “loose end” in its backyard, stepped up its efforts in consolidating geopolitical power via maintaining and building up Russian military bases in the Kyrgyz Republic. As a result, Kyrgyzstan is the only state in the ex-Soviet Central Asia that holds a record number of the foreign bases in its territory. Surely, the Kremlin’s unsuccessful attempt to shut down the US transit center in Bishkek was part of the bigger game plan that had produced Bakiyev regime overthrow in April 2010 although Russian approach highlights an adjustment of relations with the ousted regime after deep disappointment with ex-President Bakiyev on his turnaround decision with the US airbase “Manas” closure. The US ambassador in Russia, Michael McFaul recently mentioned Russian ordeal of the bribery in Kyrgyzstan to what, apparently, Moscow is still sensitive despite the worldwide coverage of the controversy.
The Kremlin’s dominating power in the Kyrgyz Republic facilitated through a wide range of tools that are available to the Russian Government’s dispense. First and foremost, Russia’s intelligence services play crucial part in enforcing Moscow’s blueprint in Kyrgyzstan that was sharply exposed in the months prior to regime disposal in the spring of 2010. On such note it is worth to authenticate the activity of Russia’s FSB (Federal Security) in Kyrgyzstan from 2005 to 2009. Kyrgyz opposition figures have been reporting negative impact of the Kremlin’s “Kyrgyz” project that was designed to suppress the opponents of the regime. According to some reports, Russia’s FSB had provided support and resources (surveillance equipment, consulting and training) to security department’s of the Bakiyev regime against the opposition. There was a chain of high profile assassinations of the Kyrgyz politicians and independent journalists in 2009. One of them is a former chief of the President Bakiyev’s administration, Mr. Sadyrkulov who was killed and burnt along with his two colleagues in the car on the way back from Almaty (Kazakhstan) after meeting with the US State Department officials.
However, later in the second half of 2009, Moscow turned the table around against the Bakiyev regime, this time, on the side of the Kyrgyz opposition that was desperately looking for external support. Abandoned by the Kremlin after surprise with “Manas” airbase agreement, the regime’s relations with Russia cooled off faster than ever before. Over the course of the autumn-winter of 2009 to early spring of 2010, the development of the events in Kyrgyzstan highlighted multiple visits of the regime opponents to the Kremlin headquarters in Moscow. The Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan published its research findings over political situation in Kyrgyzstan where it stated that “Russia was the only country to openly support the Interim Government – a fact that speaks for itself. In a phone conversation with Prime Minister Putin, Rosa Otunbayeva was promised material support.”
Russian intelligence services routinely monitor a substance of the internal political rivalry between factions of the North and South, according to Kyrgyz analysts. Similar tactic has been widely used by KGB a few decades back in Afghanistan when Politburo had collected “day to day” data on the status of the inside Khalq-Parchami factional split in the Communist Party of Afghanistan. The term of “afghanisation” of Kyrgyzstan was raised by Russia’s ex-President Medvedev in June 2010 during a meeting with the President of Uzbekistan while South Kyrgyz Republic dived into complete chaos. Kyrgyz experts say that Moscow intensely plays on the regional subdivision feud in accordance with conditions in the country. Given the Kremlin’s history of switching sides in the modern politics of Kyrgyzstan, Russia’s policies of fueling inter-regional divide is seen as counter productive among the expert communities of the country and neighboring states.
The Kremlin also enjoys extremely valued media space outside of Russia’s borders. Russian language is still considered to be a main language of communication within the sphere of its influence. Moscow employs various information delivery systems that are modeled for propaganda purposes or media wars. Russian First channel’s news coverage from western Kyrgyzstan where uprising against the Bakiyev regime took its hold in the early April 2010 confirms close interaction of the Kremlin’s intelligence with the Kyrgyz opposition at the time when the rest of the regional and world news organizations were caught off guard with reference to public discontent that had severely erupted in the republic. Moscow’s aggressive propaganda wars have been observed in Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine but nowhere effectively as in Kyrgyzstan that paid off the Kremlin’s bets. Ironically, one of the Kyrgyz opponents of the regime, Mr. Tekebayev was seen as a powerful contributor to the Russian anti-Bakiyev information campaign in March 2010 only to appear as a target of the same Moscow based TV channel in October 2010 in the run up to Parliamentary elections.
Additionally, the Russian Government allocates funds for projects of various nature to prolong the Kremlin’s interests in Kyrgyzstan. According to sources in Bishkek, the Embassy of Russia in the Kyrgyz Republic is at the center of the stage providing support to pro-Kremlin NGO’s, groups and individuals reflecting on Moscow’s policy in the country. Assets of such kind greatly at work when Russia’s officials see an emanating threat to the Kremlin’s priorities. Russia uses these policy projecting instruments in an ongoing manner but more vividly it is a spot on with arising matters of the Kyrgyz language advancement programs in the corridors of the Government and education system. Russian officials are also highly negative on the measures of the Kyrgyz authorities to reduce the amount of Russia’s TV channel’s coverage in Kyrgyzstan.
Ryskeldi Satke is a contributing writer with research institutions and news organiztaions in Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia, Caucauses and Turkey. Contact e-mail: [email protected]
1.Norwegian Helsinki Committee-Memorial Human Rights Center-Freedom House Report:A Chronicle of Violence. The events in the South of Kyrgyzstan in June 2010. (2-2012)
2. UN Office on Drugs & Crime: OPIATE FLOWS THROUGH NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN AND CENTRAL ASIA: A THREAT ASSESSMENT (May 2012)
3. The Wall Street Journal: Russians Outfox U.S. in Latest Great Game (June 11 2009)
4. The Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan; Murat LAUMULIN, Chief Researcher of the KazISS under the President of the RK, Doctor of Political Science :April 2010 in Kyrgyzstan: as seen from Kazakhstan Central Asia’s Affairs QUARTERLY ANALYTICAL REVIEW 3(31)/2010
5.Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Vasiliy Mitrokhin: THE KGB IN AFGHANISTAN (2-2002)