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Kyrgyzstan: New Aksy Probe Could Reach Current Circles

A monument erected to the demonstrators who died after police fired on the crowd in Aksy (RFE/RL) June 28, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- At the request of concerned citizens and the prosecutor-general, Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court agreed today to open an old wound.

The court agreed to a request by the Prosecutor-General's Office to reopen the investigation into a deadly confrontation five years ago between police and demonstrators in southern Kyrgyzstan.

At least five people were killed when police fired on protesters after a rally turned violent in the district of Aksy in March 2002.

The government resigned two months later, but amnesty for all those involved -- granted by then-President Askar Akaev -- left relatives of those killed frustrated in their search for justice, and for answers.

The court met for 45 minutes before the chairman of the Collegium of the Kyrgyz Supreme Court, Akylbek Matkerimov, announced its decision.

"The decision made on April 9, 2004, by the Kyrgyzstan Supreme Court's Collegium for Criminal and Administrative Abuses [closing the case] is to be reversed," Matkerimov said. "The criminal case against [former officials] is to be sent to the Kyrgyz Republic's Prosecutor-General's Office in order to reinvestigate it. The conclusion made by the deputy prosecutor-general of Kyrgyzstan is to be satisfied."

Questions remain as to why no one was ever held accountable in the incident. Relatives of those killed have never stopped demanding justice.

Possible Repercussions

The Supreme Court's decision could leave some current government officials anxiously watching to see how their roles in those events are viewed.

One such official is current legislator Sultan Urmanaev, who in March 2002 was governor of the Jalal-Abad Province in which Aksy lies. The Prosecutor-General's Office has already asked parliament to lift Urmanaev's immunity so it can open a criminal investigation into what, if any, role he played.

In comments to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Urmanaev denied playing any role in the tragedy. He claimed officials like then-Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev, then-President Askar Akaev, and then-State Secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov gave him no instructions. In fact, he said the head of the presidential administration at the time, Amanbek Karypkulov, discouraged him from getting involved in the case surrounding opposition lawmaker Azimbek Beknazarov.

"I received no order or request from then-Prime Minister Bakiev nor from Akaev himself, nor from [former] State Secretary Osmonakun [Ibraimov]," Urmanaev said. "But Karypkulov attempted to isolate me from the case related to Beknazarov. When I had raised the issue of calming the crowd or negotiating with the people, [Karypkulov] kept telling me, 'Don't touch on that question, don't interfere in the Beknazarov case,' and he had been isolating me from the issue."

What Is Known...

On March 17, 2002, a group of more than 1,000 protesters appeared in Aksy. The crowd was protesting the detention of Beknazarov, the district's representative in parliament, on charges of abuse of office that related to a previous post. Beknazarov supporters believed the authorities were using that incident to silence a popular government critic.

Bottles and stones were thrown at police and security forces before something happened that had not taken place at any point in Kyrgyzstan's decade of post-Soviet independence. The police shot at the protesters, killing six people.

The former chief of the Aksy police, Daniyar Kuluev, told RFE/RL that he signed the order to implement Operation Typhoon to stop the protests -- and that the order was given only after demonstrators started breaking the law.

"The signature to start the operation was written down only after the disorder started," Kuluev said. "We were sitting at the police station that later was vandalized."

...And What Is Not

The incident sparked widespread protests in Kyrgyzstan. Outraged demonstrators blocked the main highway linking the northern and southern parts of the country. In the capital, Bishkek, officials denied police exceeded their authority in firing on protesters. Some, like then-President Akaev, accused the opposition of seeking to plunge the country into an "abyss of chaos" and manipulating protesters. The appearance in early April of a video showing police firing on demonstrators added fuel to the fire. The protests continued into May and reached Bishkek -- finally leading to the resignation of the government led by the man who is now the country's president: Kurmanbek Bakiev.

Opposition lawmaker Kanybek Imanaliev said recently that even if Bakiev was involved, the public has a constitutional right to know what happened at Aksy.

"In accordance with the constitution then and the [new] constitution now, the government answers for social disorder -- and who was prime minister? That is the first issue," Imanaliev said. "The second [issue] is, inasmuch as the Aksy events were a black mark on the image of Kyrgyzstan, we are in favor of an objective, adequate assessment that leads to the punishment of the person who authorized police to use deadly force -- and the governor, of course, has the authority to give such a command. There is also a need to punish those who fired [on the crowd], as it is hardly likely that the governor had a weapon."

Investigators are likely to feel pressure from various quarters. Relatives of the victims of Aksy want the whole truth. Some officials involved in those events might prefer that the investigation avoid delving too deeply. And police officers who actually fired on the crowd, and local officials who might have passed along the order to implement Operation Typhoon that day, might fear being made scapegoats for the Aksy tragedy.

(Nazgul Koshoeva and Tynchtykbek Tchoroev of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)

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