People protest during a rally on the central square in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Wednesday, October 7, 2020.

Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia’s only democratic country, remains mired in political turmoil a week after allegations of electoral interference triggered violent protests.

As condemnation grew after last Sunday’s contested parliamentary election, President Sooronbai Jeenbekov announced he was ready to resign after an interim government was formed. The latest voters’ discontent led to the takeover of the President’s main office building and the resignation of the Cabinet causing a leadership void that rival political parties and factions are vying to fill.

Leadership competitions aren’t new in Kyrgyzstan, a country of 6 million wedged between Russia and China. This is the third time the country’s citizens have forced their president to flee from office amid allegations of voting violations and corruption.…  Seguir leyendo »

Demonstrators from various political parties participate in a rally at the central Ala-Too square in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Friday. Mass protests against the results of the 2020 Kyrgyz parliamentary election have been held in Kyrgyzstan since protesters seized the parliament buildings and presidential offices Monday. (Igor Kovalenko/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Last Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan sparked protests after election results showed that only pro-government parties secured seats in government. By day, citizens continue to protest in cities across the country; by night, civilian defense groups mobilized to protect the capital from looting.

Here is what has happened. Election Day saw numerous reports of irregularities, including vote-buying schemes and busloads of people shipped in to vote at strategic locations where they had been fraudulently registered.

Thousands gathered in the capital, Bishkek, to protest irregularities and voice discontent with the results. When government security forces tried to control the crowds with pepper spray and rubber bullets, these demonstrations spiraled out of control.…  Seguir leyendo »

The human rights activist Azimjon Askarov during a courtroom hearing in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in 2016. (Vladimir Voronin/AP file)

Azimjon Askarov, a human rights defender from Kyrgyzstan, may have died in prison on Saturday after contracting pneumonia, but it really was the cruel human rights abuses that ultimately got him. Prison officials confirmed the cause of death, but we must be very clear: What killed Askarov was 10 years of human rights violations compounded by cowardice, cruelty and negligence on the part of Kyrgyz authorities.

Askarov, a member of the ethnic Uzbek minority in Kyrgyzstan, was 69 years old. Before he was jailed, he documented and reported on police abuse of detainees and prison conditions in his hometown of Bazar-Korgon, in southern Kyrgyzstan.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sooronbai Jeenbekov will be inaugurated as Kyrgyzstan’s fifth president on 24 November, the victor of a tight, unpredictable, contested but ultimately legitimate election. The new leader, a loyal member of the ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), won 54 per cent of the vote and gained a majority in every province but Chui and Talas – the home territory of the defeated main opposition candidate Omurbek Babanov.

As president, Jeenbekov will face a number of challenges and opportunities, both at home and in Central Asia. The state Committee for National Security (GKNB) on 4 November opened an investigation against Babanov for inciting ethnic hatred based on a speech he made on 28 September in an ethnic-Uzbek area of Osh, a city in southern Kyrgyzstan’s Ferghana Valley.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kyrgyzstan looks set to conduct the first democratic transfer of power in the Central Asian region. On 16 October, the Kyrgyz Central Election Commission announced preliminary results revealing that the candidate of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), Sooronbay Jeenbekov had won 54.3 per cent of the votes cast in the country’s presidential election, while his chief opponent, businessman Omurbek Babanov received 33.4 percent. After a campaign marred by mud-slinging and provocations, this clear majority confounded expectations and widespread belief that a close vote between these two former prime ministers would necessitate a run-off.

The peaceful and measured response to the unexpected results so far is broadly encouraging.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kyrgyzstan’s forthcoming presidential elections on 15 October are a milestone for Central Asia: for the first time, a president from the region will voluntarily stand down at the end of his constitutionally mandated term. Kyrgyzstan has come far in the seven years since the tumultuous events of 2010, when President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in Bishkek and ethnic violence engulfed the southern city of Osh, killing over 400 people, mostly Uzbeks.

The presidential race is tight and unpredictable. Sooronbai Jeenbekov, from the southern province of Jalalabad and representing the ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) party, faces Omurbek Babanov, a wealthy independent candidate from the northern province of Talas, still closely aligned with the party he formed in 2010, Respublika.…  Seguir leyendo »

What has led to the heightened political tensions in Kyrgyzstan?

On 26 February, authorities arrested Omurbek Tekebayev, the leader of the opposition party Ata-Meken, on charges of fraud and corruption. That incident sparked peaceful protests in Bishkek, including at the capital’s Ala-Too Square, the site of earlier demonstrations that ultimately led to the ouster of two presidents. The past week’s demonstrations were modest, however protests in Kyrgyzstan have previously started small and then snowballed. President Almazbek Atambayev’s government – and especially the judiciary – should ensure that its actions ahead of the November ballot are above reproach in order not to aggravate the already tense situation.…  Seguir leyendo »

Mutakallim School in Bishkek, April 2016. CRISIS GROUP/Julie David de Lossy

Returning to Kyrgyzstan after five years away, I found a country that still mixes open-eyed charm, bureaucratic frustrations and decaying Soviet-era infrastructures – all part of a slow, uncertain transition that its population wishes could go faster even if the ultimate destination remains obscure.

Taking pictures that tell a real story in post-Soviet states is always a challenge. Especially in Central Asia. I have to overcome the country’s big empty spaces, the absence of public information and a decades-old culture of suspicion. Then a door opens, I turn a corner, or a new friend helps. Suddenly I get my chance.

I want to give a feeling for the context of Islamic radicalisation in Kyrgyzstan.…  Seguir leyendo »

Few post-Soviet countries are as comfortable for a Russian-speaker to visit as Kyrgyzstan. This landlocked mountainous country of roughly 5.6 million, wedged between China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, kept Russian as an official language after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Kyrgyz had fallen into disuse during the Soviet era and lacked the vocabulary for affairs of state. As a result, a generation after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country still speaks Russian.

Recently, Kyrgyzstan has been growing notably more Russian. Although Kyrgyz has gained many words, speakers and advocates for making it the country’s sole state language, activists from nongovernmental organizations say they noticed a couple of years ago that Russian-language media got suddenly more robust, gaining a crop of new freelance writers who seemed to come from nowhere.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Pentagon quietly announced last month that the U.S. military is leaving the air base it has operated in Kyrgyzstan as a staging area for American troops and matériel since 2001. While the move will complicate American efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan, the decision has much broader ramifications: It marks the end of a brief experiment to extend American power and influence into the distant strategic arena of Central Asia.

The base, formally known as the Transit Center at Manas, is a key installation for the U.S. military, with about 1,500 American airmen processing all the troops going in and out of the Afghanistan theater and operating refueling aircraft.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the heart of Central Asia we are watching with solidarity as events unfold in the Middle East. The «people power» that the world witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt reminds us in Kyrgyzstan of our own victory last year against a corrupt dictator. Nothing can be more moving than to see humans celebrate their freedom. There are many skeptics and cynics who warn against popular revolutions, citing the violence and instability that they unleash, and the unpredictable consequences. There are those who dismiss national uprisings as shows set up by foreign governments, international media and terrorist groups – claiming that millions of people are all on hallucinogenic drugs.…  Seguir leyendo »

En el palizón que lleva un decenio dándose para mantener la seguridad de Afganistán, Estados Unidos ha hecho malabarismos con políticas exteriores contradictorias en Uzbekistán y Kirguistán, países que estos días visita la secretaria de Estado, Hillary Clinton. Estos frágiles estados del Asia Central desempeñan decisivos papeles de apoyo en la guerra. Una es la política de relaciones con esos dos estados postsoviéticos en sí mismos, encaminada a fomentar la gestión idónea de los asuntos públicos, los derechos humanos y los vínculos comerciales. La otra es la política para utilizarlos como centros de comunicaciones para la guerra de Afganistán.

Lamentablemente, las dos políticas han resultado con frecuencia antagónicas, lo que ha menoscabado la influencia a largo plazo de EE.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kyrgyzstan rarely makes headlines in the United States. It is a small, landlocked country in Central Asia that is overshadowed by neighbors such as China, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. When I recently visited Bishkek, the capital, it was clear that Kyrgyzstan’s strategic importance and democratic impulses deserve greater attention. At the same time, the people of Kyrgyzstan would rather be recognized for their democratic ambitions than as an asset in the war in Afghanistan.

One narrative among American Kyrgyzstan-watchers goes something like this: Kyrgyzstan is important because it hosts a U.S. airbase, which serves as a key transit point for personnel en route to Afghanistan.…  Seguir leyendo »

There is a hole in the map of Central Asia where Kyrgyzstan used to be. A country once considered an outpost of relative tolerance and democracy in a region of dysfunctional authoritarian regimes is today a deeply divided, practically failed, state. If the international response to its descent into political chaos is not swift and bold, the consequences will be disastrous.

After years of mismanagement and corruption President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in April by a provisional government that has not succeeded in establishing its authority over the country. An explosion of violence, destruction and looting hit southern Kyrgyzstan in June, killing hundreds and deepening the gulf between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ceux qui connaissaient l’existence du Kirghizistan, ce petit pays d’Asie centrale ex-soviétique, avaient l’image bucolique d’une sorte de Suisse, en plus haut (entre 4 000 et 7 000 mètres). Ou d’un pays en marche vers la démocratie, le seul bon élève de la région, accueillant aux organisations non gouvernementales (ONG) et aux aides généreuses de l’Occident, même si les régimes d’Askar Akaev (1990-2005) et Kourmanbek Bakiev (2005-7 avril 2010) avaient peu à peu fissuré l’image, laissant voir népotisme, corruption, autoritarisme.

Aujourd’hui, elle est souillée par un bain de sang. La chute de Bakiev, le 7 avril, dans la capitale, Bichkek, dans le nord, la paralysie du gouvernement provisoire qui a suivi, ont ouvert la voie, dans le sud, à une épuration ethnique bien éloignée des désordres «collatéraux» de la révolte du 7 avril, plongeant le sud du pays dans l’anarchie et le chaos.…  Seguir leyendo »

As donors pledge $1.1bn to Kyrgyzstan, and its president promises to use their advice as a road map, it has become clear that the country needs more than international money.

The problems gripping Kyrgyzstan have not gone away. The «7 April events», as they have become known and inter-ethnic violence in the south were links in the same chain. A change in government deepened regional divisions and alienated many southern Kyrgyz who felt that «their» president Kurmanbek Bakiyev had been unlawfully removed by northern rivals. A taboo on violence was broken.

The fall of the Bakiyev regime gave the Uzbek minority hope that their grievances would be addressed by new authorities.…  Seguir leyendo »

Las noticias procedentes de Asia Central vienen ocupando las primeras planas de la prensa en las últimas semanas. Ya en pleno verano, empieza a quedar claro que existe un vínculo entre el desarrollo de la guerra en Afganistán, los sucesos en Kirguistán, la tensión en torno a Irán y los recelos rusos y chinos.

Vayamos a lo primero y más evidente: la guerra de Afganistán va cada vez peor para el bando aliado. El general McChrystal fue destituido por el presidente Obama el pasado día 24 de junio, un suceso excepcional en la reciente historia norteamericana. Pero, según se ha podido saber, sus polémicas declaraciones a la revista Rolling Stone no fueron sino el empujón final, dado que, a comienzos de ese mismo mes, el militar habría hecho una estimación extremadamente pesimista de la guerra, durante una reunión con los ministros de Defensa de la OTAN.…  Seguir leyendo »

The international community faces an acute test of its political will in Kyrgyzstan.

This small Central Asian country with a population of 5.3 million people is now in a deep political, economic and social crisis. As the tragic events of last month have shown, relations between the majority Kyrgyz population and some of the country’s minorities have started to fracture in the south leaving the interim government struggling to regain control and maintain a functioning state.

Some people may ask: Why does the situation in Kyrgyzstan matter? For many of them it is probably, as Neville Chamberlain said famously of Czechoslovakia, a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.…  Seguir leyendo »

A major crisis is taking place in Central Asia, but much of the world — and most governments — would prefer not to think about it. Kyrgyzstan has lost control of a significant part of its country.

Initial violence has caused many hundreds of deaths and, as of the latest count, over 400,000 refugees. This from a population of five million. The calm that has come over the area is temporary combat fatigue. Kyrgyzstan’s new provisional government is looking increasingly incapable of taking any measures to restore homes, livelihoods, destroyed infrastructure or trust. It can barely impose order. Yet world leaders are looking elsewhere.…  Seguir leyendo »

It is over a week since armed mobs began to murder, rape and burn their way through the cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad in Kyrgyzstan, where ethnic Uzbeks have been purged by gangs of Kyrgyz men. Latest estimates place the number of people displaced by the violence at over 400,000. While the official death toll is still less than two hundred, Acting president Roza Otunbayeva admitted to the Russian press on Friday that it could be as high as 2,000.

Why didn’t the international community act to contain the violence?

Some $36m of aid has now begun to arrive in southern Kyrgyzstan, but as late as Monday, the only named government on the WHO’s bulletin of donors was Italy.…  Seguir leyendo »