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Kyrgyzstan: Deposed President Discusses His Ouster

Askar Akaev in March 2005, shortly before he fled Kyrgystan (RFE/RL) Former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev was interviewed by RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service correspondent Cholpon Orozobekova on March 23. Akaev lives in a self-imposed exile in Moscow, where he is teaching at Moscow State University. Akaev fled Bishkek on March 24, 2005, amid unrest and protests in the country.

RFE/RL: Mr. Askar Akaev, you have been living in Moscow for almost a year. Do you miss your homeland?

Akaev: Of course. I don't think there is a single person who wouldn't miss his homeland. I can say that today I particularly miss it.

RFE/RL: What have you been doing since you moved to Moscow? Do you miss political life, or is academic life more comfortable for you?

Akaev: First of all, the last year was not an easy one for me. The problems my country was facing after the March events worried me all the time.

My aim was to keep our country united, to prevent division, bloodshed, and any possibility of civil war. I understood that the prevention of all of that is my duty to my people. Therefore, that is what I did. I did it in order to ease the political situation at the time. Those days brought many problems, especially looting in the [capital] city. But if civil confrontation and bloodshed, which I mentioned earlier, would have occurred, more problems would have appeared.

Akaev: I, as far as I could, made every effort to maintain peace in our country, to develop it. I also made sure to support the new government. Regarding me, myself, I am happy that I have returned to the scholar's position.

RFE/RL: Let's go back to the events of March 24 last year. Mainly the public, but also politicians, accuse you of fleeing Kyrgyzstan. Do you regret that you left for Moscow?

Akaev: I don't. I have answered this question many times. My aim was to keep our country united, to prevent division, bloodshed, and any possibility of civil war. I understood that the prevention of all of that is my duty to my people. Therefore, that is what I did. I did it in order to ease the political situation at the time. Those days brought many problems, especially looting in the [capital] city. But if civil confrontation and bloodshed, which I mentioned earlier, would have occurred, more problems would have appeared. Therefore, I do not regret that decision.

RFE/RL: Journalists just came from the [Kyrgyz] White House, where President Bakiev held a press conference and answered journalists' questions. In talking about you, he said that you have to apologize to the Kyrgyz people. What is your response to this?

Akaev: I always spoken about my mistakes during my presidency, so I'll do it again today. It was impossible not to make mistakes in such a high position during such hard times; the Soviet Union was collapsing and the Kyrgyz Republic was building its independence. I admitted my mistakes from the beginning. But I did not commit any crime or take any action against the public interests that I would need to apologize for.

RFE/RL: About the March 24 events -- in your opinion, what mistakes did you make? Some people say that you should have met with the people during the unrest; others say that you should have stayed at the White House. What do you think?

Akaev: I think you saw it on television as well. We cannot call those thousands of people "representatives of the nation." They were criminals, in general. They were drunk and high [on drugs]. They wouldn't negotiate. The leaders of the irreconcilable opposition, who organized that coup, were relying on such criminal structures.

RFE/RL: There is an opinion that all military forces, either National Security Service or Ministry of Internal Affairs, were working for the opposition during the March events. Do you think that you were receiving all the information that you needed?

Akaev: I understood that only after March 24. National Security authorities could not provide us full and correct information about the situation in the country. In fact, I did not have information that the irreconcilable opposition was united with and relying on criminals, the drug mafia. I did not ever think that the opposition might rely on the drug mafia and organize a coup d'etat.

So, there is every reason to say that the national security authorities failed in their duty there. Probably they knew everything, but did not tell me. People say that, and there must be a reason for that. Today I also think that they were negotiating with the opposition -- not about easing the situation -- but about cooperation after a takeover. I think this was one of my main mistakes. Before the elections I should have replaced all of the negligent managers whose work was unsatisfactory. I thought about creating a new government after the elections, to bring in new forces, new leaders. That was my mistake. I should have done it before the elections.

RFE/RL: Another question related to the "revolution." There is a rumor that military assistance was coming from Russia; that Russia's Alfa military division almost reached Kazakhstan, and that unrest was going to be stopped by force, when the Alfa force came. Did you ask for any assistance [from Moscow] to stop the unrest?

Mairam Akaeva (RFE/RL file photo)

Akaev: No. I had certain principles during my presidency. The first principle was never to stray from the democratic path of development. The other one was never to use outside forces for internal problems in the country. I never strayed from these principles for 14 years.

RFE/RL: So, the Alfa unit was not coming?

Akaev: No. I did not even request that. Even history shows that power kept by outside forces never brought any good. It would break unity within the nation and could lead to civil war as well.

RFE/RL: You are living in Moscow, so you are probably homesick. What would happen if you took a flight to Bishkek in spite of everything? How would the current government and people meet you? What is keeping you [in Moscow]?

Akaev: I think that if I were to do so the political situation in Kyrgyzstan would explode like a volcano. As you can see, the government's policy after March 24 is to persecute and accuse my family and me. They are linking all negative events to us -- the Akaevs, "Akaev's forces." The current government is doing everything possible to prevent my return to Kyrgyzstan. Those crimes, informational terror through television and newspapers, all of it is done in order to keep Akaev out.

RFE/RL: Criminal cases were raised against your son, your wife, and your son-in-law. Where is your family right now? How is their life, their security, and their possibilities to return to Kyrgyzstan?

Akaev: Our life is average. I cannot say that it is good because, as you said, we are away from our homeland; the new government is spreading negative propaganda about us, just like that during the Stalin repressions. My son Aidar and daughter Bermet, as always, are studying and working here, not wasting [their] time. However, they wanted to serve people as members of parliament. They took away Bermet's parliamentary seat by force. Regarding Aidar, they launched politically motivated cases against him and hampered his activities. There are no legal grounds for the cases brought against Aidar.

RFE/RL: Two of your children were running for deputy seats during the parliamentary elections. Why didn't you advise one of them to wait, because many people say that this inflamed the protests?

Akaev: They grew up and received an education. Bermet worked in an international organization for 10 years. She wanted to work for people then. I did not give them governmental positions by order, unlike Bakiev, who assigned one brother as ambassador to Germany, another to China, and a third to the National Security Council. I had two brothers as well, but during my 14 year of rule I never gave them a governmental position. People chose them as deputies themselves. I could not interfere there.

RFE/RL: Do you believe that presidential administration resources were used in those parliamentary elections? Maybe even actions by officials doing "work" for you without your permission?

Akaev (left) with Russian President Vladimir Putin in October 2004 at the opening of a Russian air base in Kyrgyzstan

Akaev: Maybe. We cannot say that it did not happen at all. Some officials in all countries -- even democratic ones -- misuse their power.

RFE/RL: People say that your son-in-law, Adil Toigonbaev, "used" our country, moving many assets from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan. Where is he now and what do you think about the criminal suits [against him]?

Akaev: Everybody knows about these criminal cases. Bakiev's first order when he came to power was to find Akaev's wealth. They established a special commission for it, led by Daniyar Usenov. They worked for six months and did not find any riches, did they? What did that commission do? They claimed that all of Kyrgyzstan's industry is controlled by Akaev. This was the reason for checking all business and enterprise structures, followed by a redivision of illegal property. Even deputy Azimbek Beknazarov said it when he was general prosecutor. So, the commission could not prove anything. Talking about my son-in-law, you know that he is a citizen of Kazakhstan, so I can't provide any additional information.

RFE/RL: There is big dispute about the Uzongu-Kuush [in which land was given to China] and Aksy [an event at which protesters were killed by security forces]. There are some complaints about you as well. Do you still think that you acted correctly regarding those incidents?

Akaev: There shouldn't be any complaints about Uzongu-Kuush. A special commission was established for it. Such countries as Russia, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan also had disputes over land with China. We got 70 percent of all disputed land, while China received 30 percent. Other countries divided 50-50 or even 30-70. So it was a very advantageous decision for Kyrgyzstan, and one that I will never regret. We also maintained positive relations with China, which is very important for development in the 21st century. Talking about the Aksy events, it was a very painful thing. Mistakes by local government led to a national tragedy. I gave such an opinion in those days, too. All the guilty people were punished. Such things could never happen again. Correct, as president I bear responsibility for it. Current President Bakiev was prime minister in those days. He is responsible for it as well. Then he was in a sanatorium in Jalalabad for one month, claiming to sick instead of solving the issue.

RFE/RL: Were you in Bishkek then?

Akaev: No. I was abroad on a business trip. I don't remember where I was exactly. I immediately returned and established a commission led by Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev. They worked very successfully and completed the task.

RFE/RL: The four or five people punished were amnestied soon after. Today, people say that those people should be retried, and that Akaev should be among them, since he or his people were the ones giving the order to shoot. What is you opinion?

Akaev: As I told you before, my principle is never to use force regarding internal issues. Even on March 24 I prohibited the use of arms [against the protesters]. Because if one has a gun, he may shoot. I did not use arms even in those days.

RFE/RL: Who told you about the death of six civilians, and under which circumstances?

Akaev: Prime Minister Tanaev by phone. It was really hard for me. As president, I valued every life and every drop of blood of our citizens.

RFE/RL: The fourth anniversary of the Aksy events were marked this month. What can you say to the people of Aksy?

Akaev: I wish them peace and unity. We celebrated Norouz a couple of days ago. A hope it will bring only good to them and that things such as what happened in Aksy will never happen again.

RFE/RL: There is an aid program used mainly for poor African countries. The question of whether to join this program is being raised. In your opinion, would it negatively affect the image of Kyrgyzstan or could Kyrgyzstan benefit from it?

Akaev: I think entering the aid program would be a big mistake. As you know, we were negotiating on the restructuring of our debt. In this way we reduced 60 percent of our debt to the Paris club. It did not negatively affect our international image or us. This is the way we should work. The program consists of mainly African countries. No one has much hope in them. They have too many obligations and some grants and supports are unavailable to them. For example, Japan does not help out the member states in this program. Meanwhile, Japan is a country that supported us in the building of the Osh-Bishkek highway and the Manas International Airport. So, entering [this program] may force us to take big credits, and that would increase our debt. Therefore, the aid program is the wrong thing to do.

RFE/RL: The new government is requesting a higher rent for the Ganci Air Base. Don't you think that you set too small of a rent price? Should the new government keep both air bases?

Akaev: Payment for Ganci was always subject to the political situation. The political situation in 2001 was different than it is today. [The terror attacks on] 9-11 and the international war against terrorism united all of us. If today the government can negotiate and raise prices, it will be good for the economy of Kyrgyzstan. Ganci was established for the war in Afghanistan. The Russian air base in Kant has a totally different mandate. It has to keep stability and security in the region, which is a positive thing.

RFE/RL: Have there been any job offers for you from big international organizations?

Akaev: As I said before, I decided to leave big politics. Scientific work in Moscow totally satisfies me. Therefore I never searched for any other job.

RFE/RL: The so-called "criminal leader" Rysbek Akmatbaev, whose guilt has not yet been proven in court, said that you used to ask him to help you from time to time. According to him this occurred especially during the elections, in order to get certain candidates elected.

Akaev: All of that is false. I never had relations with such criminals during my presidency. On the contrary, I was fighting crime. Where were they during my presidency? Could they openly interfere in politics? There was not even one such incident during 14 years. March 24 was done with the support of these criminals. We could say that now the government is paying them back. Criminal elements and the government are uniting. We know that will not bring any positive results. Take Latin America, for example. I tell you that the current government has to remove criminals from power; otherwise they will harm Kyrgyzstan's future.

RFE/RL: People say that your family was interfering in state affairs too much, especially your wife, who put up a monument to her father.

Akaev: My family never interfered in state governance. It is one of the myths of the opposition, aimed to discredit me. My wife, Mairam Akaeva, did not interfere in any deal, but she did occupy herself with charity work.

RFE/RL: Talking about charity, the prosecutor-general found out that district mayors and oblast governors were transferring state funds to [your wife's] charity centers.

Akaev: Governors and mayors were transferring funds to the oblast education centers in order to make teachers' working conditions better. Mairam Akaeva never used it for her personal interest.

(translated from the Kyrgyz by Kaarmanbek Kuluev and edited by Bruce Pannier)

The Tulip Revolution

The Tulip Revolution

ONE YEAR AGO: Click on the image to view RFE/RL's archive of coverage of Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution from the beginning, including biographical sketches of the key players and photo galleries of the demonstrations.

See RFE/RL's special review of the March 2005 Kyrgyz events:

Questions Remain About March 24 'Revolution' (Part I)

Did Revolution Sow The Seeds Of Democracy? (Part II)

Was 'Revolution' A Worthy Successor To Rose And Orange? (Part III)

See also:

Reporter's Notebook -- Witness To The Uprising

THE COMPLETE KYRGYZSTAN: To view an archive of all of RFE/RL's coverage of Kyrgyzstan, click here.

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