I was recently in southern Kyrgyzstan, in Jalal-Abad, and nearby Teyit, to watch ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiev's desperate attempt to cling to power.
It was at a rally in Teyit, and at demonstrations in the city of Jalal-Abad, that I noticed the entourage of women that surrounded Bakiev.
They may have numbered only about 100, but they were always there, the most ardent of Bakiev’s supporters, often seizing the microphone and shouting out to the crowd.
They taunted and cursed people like interim government leaders Roza Otunbaeva and Omurbek Tekebaev. They praised Bakiev and members of his government.
To the crowd they said they were "women guards," there to defend the “legitimate president of Kyrgyzstan.” Around town they were a favorite topic of conversation in chai-hanas (tea houses) and were quickly referred to as "women revolutionaries."
And they certainly weren't shy about making themselves heard. In Teyit, at one rally, it was technically an "open mic" -- well, at least open to anyone wishing to denounce the “illegal events in the north” against “the legitimate president.”
But when one elderly gentleman took the microphone and quickly praised the new government, one of the women ran up to the stage, grabbed the man’s jacket with one hand and pulled him, microphone still in hand, off the stage. (Bakiev himself defused the situation by shaking the man’s hand and telling the crowd that the man had a right to his opinions.)
It was never clear to me exactly who these women were. Bakiev's relatives? Family friends? Or just ardent supporters? Or quite possibly a mixture of all three.
-- Bruce Pannier