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Profile: Roza Otunbaeva

  • Liz Fuller

Roza Otunbaeva, leader of Kyrgyzstan's Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) movement, made the transition to the political opposition after a career that spanned both the latter years of the Soviet Union and the first decade of Kyrgyzstan's independence.

Born on 23 August 1950 in Osh, Otunbaeva studied in Moscow, graduating in 1972 from the Philosophy Faculty of Moscow State University, where she subsequently completed graduate studies.
Otunbaeva returned to the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) in 1975 and taught for six years at the Kirghiz State University before transferring to full-time work as a functionary for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in the republic's capital, Frunze (now Bishkek).

In 1986, she was appointed deputy chair of the Kirghiz SSR Council of Ministers, and then republican foreign minister. From 1989 to 1991, she worked at the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow. She returned to Kyrgyzstan in December 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, to serve as the country's first post-independence foreign minister.

For most of the next decade, Otunbaeva alternated spells as foreign minister with diplomatic postings as an ambassador -- first to the United States and Canada (1992-94) and then to the United Kingdom (1997).

In May 2002, Otunbaeva was named assistant to the UN secretary-general's special representative for the conflict in Abkhazia. In that post, she witnessed firsthand the protests in Georgia in November 2003 that precipitated the ouster of President Eduard Shevardnadze.

Following the completion of her assignment in Tbilisi, Otunbaeva returned to Bishkek last summer. In December 2004, she founded the Ata-Jurt political movement, together with three other opposition parliamentarians. Otunbaeva hoped to run in the 27 February parliamentary elections as a candidate for Ata-Jurt, but she was refused registration on the grounds that she had not lived in Kyrgyzstan for the entire five years prior to the vote.

Interviewed a few days before the February ballot, she accused President Askar Akaev of having devalued the term "democracy" to such an extent that the population of Kyrgyzstan "just wants to leave."