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Along Kyrgyzstan's Campaign Trail: Naryn

  • Bruce Pannier

Welcome to Naryn!

Welcome to Naryn!

"This city supports President [Almazbek] Atambaev's party," a man nearing retirement age tells me as we sit in a park not far from the Naryn administration building. "We supported him in 2010," he adds, in a reference to the first postrevolutionary elections.

"What?" his friend, who looks to be about the same age, asks. "All of them should be thrown out. It's time for the younger generation of politicians to run the country."

I'm pleased that my questions have sparked a nice little political debate.

"Atambaev knows what we need," the first man answers, neglecting to note that Atambaev has not headed the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan since stepping down after becoming president, in accordance with legislation aimed at keeping the head of state out of partisan politics.

"We had a dairy plant; it's closed. We had a brick factory; it's closed," his friend responds. "People are leaving Naryn because they can't find work."

As they debate, I keep thinking it's too bad President Atambaev can't hear this; he is due to arrive in Naryn the next morning, just four days before the elections.

Campaigning Kyrgyz parties, in this case Bir Bol, favor light blue and red in their banners.

Campaigning Kyrgyz parties, in this case Bir Bol, favor light blue and red in their banners.

Naryn is the capital of Naryn Province. The city's population is around 45,000 and the province's approximately 250,000.

The city of Naryn is in an interesting place. Coming south out of the mountains, you enter Naryn by driving between high red cliffs before the city suddenly emerges in front of you. Naryn has an electric trolleybus that runs along its main street, something few cities in Kyrgyzstan can claim.

But as interesting for me is that almost no one I meet in Naryn speaks Russian very well. And that includes one of the three young women I speak with after extricating myself from the intense political conversation I started between the two older men. One of these three women is clearly Slavic, the other two are ethnic Kyrgyz; and while all three spoke some Russian, they spoke among themselves in Kyrgyz.

Good for her and Naryn city. Kyrgyz is the state language.

All three of them say they will vote on October 4, although none knows which of the 14 political parties they'll cast their ballots for.

Farther down the road I encounter two women sitting on a bench. They both appear to be in their 20s.

"Will you vote in the elections?" I ask.

"I lost my passport," one says. The other quickly echoes, "I lost my passport, too."

If these two don't seem interested in the elections, it's not because the political parties aren't trying their best to woo voters in Naryn. The city is covered in party banners, flags, and posters -- including some from Aalam (the party of nonparty people), which has not been very conspicuous in this campaign.

It might be more accurate to say that parts of Naryn are decorated with party promotions. Light blue and red are favored colors among almost all the parties, so those are the colors of Naryn as we make our way through the city.

This idea of bringing younger people into government is something I've been hearing often in northern Kyrgyzstan. I don't recall hearing that very much in the south.

So I'm interested in finding parents with small children, people who have a big stake in what happens domestically, and ask them.

I finally come upon the perfect couple with two young daughters.

"Will you vote?" I ask.

"Yes," the mother says as she moves quickly away from me and into the family car.

Her husband is less fortunate. He is loading the day's shopping into the trunk of the car and can't get away from me so easily. Continuing to load up the trunk, he tells me: "Yes, we will vote. We are voting for Ata-Meken." His wife calls out, "Yes, for Ata-Meken," from inside the car.

"Why Ata-Meken?" I ask.

"The party has helped us, with schools, with benefits. We are voting for them," he says.

I'd like to hear more, but the trunk is loaded and the young father bids me farewell.

As I walk around Naryn, others tell me they are voting for Ata-Meken as well. Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebaev seems to have a good reputation out here, and that should help the party in the voting.

Some people mention the Social Democrats, but not so much other parties.

Naryn is interesting for another reason. As with so many regions in Kyrgyzstan, people from Naryn have left to find work in Russia, Kazakhstan, and sometimes South Korea. But judging by the number of SUVs and Mercedes I see on the roads here, Naryn seems to be better off economically. It took me a while to notice, but once I did it was apparent that many people have such vehicles.

For that reason, it might not be surprising that so many people in Naryn are voting for parties that are in the current government. The city appears to be faring better than many other places in Kyrgyzstan.

I bring up Naryn's economic situation with my driver, Daniyar, and he gives me an answer I do not expect.

"It is because there are a lot of horses in Naryn Province. You can make a lot of money selling horses," he says.

I noticed on the road on my way here that there are a lot of horses in Naryn Province. Virtually every time we reached the top of a mountain pass, down below were huge pastures with hundreds of horses.

I'm not sure horses are the reason so many people in Naryn are driving SUVs, but what I am sure of is that many residents of Naryn city and the several villages I passed through said they would vote, and the majority had already selected a party. I'd look for a good turnout here on election day.

Next stop: the jewel of Kyrgyzstan, Issyk-Kul.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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