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Central Asia Report: March 26, 2005

26 March 2005, Volume 5, Number 11

KYRGYZ REVOLUTION: Get all the news on the main players and events in Kyrgyzstan at:


By Daniel Kimmage

As the situation in Kyrgyzstan slowly stabilizes, four key issues have already emerged to frame subsequent events -- stability, the leadership of the opposition, the opposition's political program, and the effect of Kyrgyzstan's revolutionary change on its Central Asian neighbors.

As a new government emerges, its most urgent task is to establish control over the country and to prevent any slide into disorder. While the takeover of government buildings in Bishkek occurred after scuffles that left several dozens injured, no confirmed fatalities were reported, as was the case with the previous seizure of provincial administrative offices in Jalal-Abad and Osh.

Nevertheless, the extent of opposition leaders' control over the crowd was not entirely clear. According to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Kurmanbek Bakiev, leader of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, told protestors after the takeover: "We didn't have the slightest idea [that things would turn out this way]. Just today in the morning we had no idea that people would take the White House."

As night fell in Bishkek on 24 March, looters took to the streets, ransacking shopping centers (many of which belonged to members of the Akaev family) and targeting bank machines and currency-exchange points. The ensuing mayhem claimed three lives, reported. Opposition leaders have delivered televised calls for restraint and promised to restore order, and the first crucial test the former opposition faces as it assumes the duties of power is to ensure that its calls are heeded and its promise kept.

The second issue involves the formation of a new government. At an emergency session late on 24 March, lawmakers from the previous parliament -- the newly elected parliament having lost its powers after the Supreme Court revoked its mandate -- selected Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, an opposition candidate in recent parliamentary elections whose disqualification sparked protests, to be acting head of state. But on 25 March, parliament named Former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev, head of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan and leader of the opposition's Coordinating Council of Popular Unity, acting president and prime minister, reported.

Bakiev lost no time proposing a provisional government. It included a number of prominent opposition figures, such as Roza Otunbaeva, acting minister of foreign affairs; Adakhan Madumarov, acting deputy prime minister; Ishengul Boljurova, acting minister of education; and Azimbek Beknazarov, acting prosecutor-general. With the latest reports indicating that Bakiev, as acting president, has the right to issue decrees, it appears that the provisional government will not require parliamentary approval. As it sets about the first-order task of restoring order, the fragmented former opposition will have ample opportunity to show that they can work together effectively.

Bakiev, who has increasingly taken on the mantle of opposition leader during recent protests, also announced on 25 March that presidential elections will take place in three months, in accordance with the constitution, RIA-Novosti reported. Bakiev himself will likely be the leading contender for the presidency, but former Vice President and long-time opposition figure Feliks Kulov's sudden release from prison on 24 March introduces another heavyweight into the political equation. Although Kulov has already said that he does not intend to run for president, the rapidly changing situation precludes any certainty on this count.

Once the new government is in place, its members will face a dilemma familiar to all political figures who have defined themselves in opposition to an entrenched regime. When the regime's hold on power is firm enough to stymie real political competition, the out-of-power opposition's program inexorably devolves to a rejection of the status quo. Now that the status quo has changed so suddenly and so radically, the opposition, left to its own devices without the foe against which it has framed itself for so long, faces the task of fashioning concrete policies to govern a country that faces in pressing social, economic, and political problems.

Finally, while it is difficult to gauge the regional implications of events in progress, 24 March in Kyrgyzstan is already setting in motion a regional paradigm shift. Even after momentous changes in Georgia and Ukraine brought to light unexpected possibilities in post-Soviet politics, Central Asia seemed immune to spontaneous popular uprisings. Kyrgyzstan now finds itself at the beginning of a road paved with uncertainties, but it has at least demonstrated the power of unexpected possibilities in a region where they have too long been denied.

(NOTE: Daniel Kimmage's analysis of the early phase of the Kyrgyz events in Jalal-Abad and Osh can be found at


By Jean-Christophe Peuch and Andrei Babitsky

Feliks Kulov, former Kyrgyz vice president, Bishkek mayor, and chairman of the opposition party Ar-Namys, was released on 24 March from the Bishkek jail where he had served four years of a combined 17 year sentence on charges of embezzlement and abuse of office. Immediately after his release, Kulov spoke to RFE/RL correspondents Jean-Christophe Peuch and Andrei Babitsky about the threat of more violence and disorder.

Feliks Kulov: There is nobody currently that we can send into the streets to maintain order. I've gathered a handful of people and together with them I'm trying myself to maintain order. For the time being, there is no other way [to maintain order]. I've been almost everywhere and I spoke on the square and told people to stay calm. But we need to work on this. But now, the police forces are so demoralized.

RFE/RL: Do you know where Akaev is?

Kulov: I have no concrete information. I also heard that he left Bishkek. No, I said earlier on television that order really needs to be maintained until there is a new team in power. We cannot risk the new state representatives who will come to power tomorrow being pushed out. Our first goal is to proceed peacefully with a change of power. And, more importantly, that no persecution follows this change of power, as we are a small people.

RFE/RL: What would you say today to the state officials who put you in jail?

Kulov: I forgive all of them. I am not ashamed of [anything I did]. If I seek revenge, I would lose face.

RFE/RL: Do you think you can control the streets today?

Kulov: We will try to do it [establish order in Bishkek] by tomorrow morning. I will do all I can, although you understand that I have been disconnected from these matters, from the [security] forces and personnel for five years [while in jail]. I will need to rely on a handful of former colleagues and see what we can do. There is a lot of work to do. There are provocateurs. I've received some specific information and we'll look into it. I said in a television interview that violence should stop and we'll try to maintain order. But people here are very poor understand [that there could be some incidents].

RFE/RL: Is there a risk of losing control?

Kulov: No, I don't think we will lose control [of the streets]. I think we'll find a way to maintain order by tomorrow morning [25 March].

RFE/RL: What do you think could happen in the region?

Kulov: All the CIS countries are concerned. I know that the embassies of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Russia, the United States are concerned with what is happening, and I think they will provide their help in resolving this conflict peacefully.

RFE/RL: Would you be interested now in leading the opposition? Is this something that you would look forward to in the near future?

Kulov: I did not get out of jail to take power. I got out to try to avoid massive disorder in the streets. Why did I get out [of jail]? According to the law I didn't have the right to get out. You understand that a court decision is required for that. But when a very large crowd came to set me free, the chief arrived and said I should get out to prevent the prison from being destroyed. There is a notion of absolute necessity in criminal law. So with that absolute necessity in mind, the decision was made, within the law, that I should leave. As soon as a different decision is made, I'll go back [to jail].

RFE/RL: But if there is a decision from the new president...

Kulov: No, this would not work. Everything has to be done according to the law. There should be a parliamentary decision. The parliament should decide what new government should be.

RFE/RL: Would you accept being part of the new government?

Kulov: This is not my first goal. I know this is a very difficult job.


By Jean-Christophe Peuch

Bishkek, 25 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- As the dust is settling on Bishkek, opposition leaders are striving to restore political stability and public order in the Kyrgyz capital.

Just hours after protesters stormed the government headquarters -- known as the "White House" among Kyrgyz -- members of the outgoing legislature met in an emergency session with representatives of the opposition to debate urgent steps to fill the power vacuum that resulted from the street upheaval.

Shortly before the emergency meeting, the Supreme Court had nullified the results of the two disputed rounds of legislative elections on 27 February and 13 March, thus automatically restoring the mandate of the outgoing parliament pending new polls.

The lower house of parliament named Ishenbai Kadyrbekov parliamentary speaker. The upper house appointed Kurmanbek Bakiev as prime minister. Bakiev automatically becomes interim president in the absence of ousted President Askar Akaev.

Bakiev is now trying to constitute a provisional government.

The assembly also voted to entrust Feliks Kulov -- a prominent opposition leader who had been released from prison a few hours earlier -- with the responsibility of overseeing the country�s law enforcement agencies and armed forces.

Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev handed over his resignation shortly after yesterday�s events. As for Akaev, his whereabouts remained unknown as of today.

Talking to RFE/RL in parliament last night, Kulov insisted that Akaev should appear before the nation and officially state that he is stepping down.

"I talked on national television [on 24 March] and said we would guarantee [Akaev] all possible safety because the transfer of power should be legitimate, constitutional. Those leaders that will assume power tomorrow must have legitimacy, this is very important. I am categorically against the idea that the future leadership [of our country] should be associated with violence. Therefore, our task is to make sure that power is transferred peacefully," Kulov said.

Judge Marat Kaipov is a member of Kyrgyzstan�s Constitutional Court. In an interview with RFE/RL today, he said the fact that Akaev has not yet handed over his resignation left the country�s new rulers facing a problem of legitimacy, if only to organize new presidential elections.

"Our president shamelessly left the country without [officially] announcing his resignation. And the fact that he did not hand over his resignation is creating a legal problem. First of all we must solve the problem of the president�s fate, the question of his resignation. There are reports that he resigned. Other reports say he did not resign. This question, I believe, must be solved within the next few days. The representatives of the opposition must agree with him on possible guarantees for his security. It has already happened that in some countries the head of state has left without resigning. But we can�t possibly leave the country without a ruler," Kaipov said.

Kaipov said a possible way out could be for parliament to impeach Akaev.

"There is a constitutional procedure to impeach the president. It is up to the majority of deputies to put this question on the agenda [now]," Kaipov said.

Kaipov, however, said he considered yesterday�s decision by the outgoing legislature to name an interim president perfectly legal.

Another major concern for Kyrgyzstan�s new authorities is to restore public order in Bishkek.

Looters overnight assaulted a number of stores and supermarkets, including those belonging to Akaev�s elder son Aidar. Defying security cordons hastily dispatched by the new authorities, plunderers also managed to ransack the White House late into the night yesterday.

In comments broadcast on national television today, Kulov said a few looters had been arrested overnight and promised they would be prosecuted.

He also urged Bishkek residents to help the country�s police forces restore public order.

"I place my hopes only in our citizens. I ordered that [representatives of] society should be included in the ranks of our police and that popular militias which care for stability, order, our honor, and name, be [attached] to each Interior Ministry unit. I call upon you, my dear friends. Enroll in these volunteer popular units right in your places of residence," Kulov said.

Kulov also asked parents not to let their children join the crowds that rampaged throughout Bishkek overnight, forcing many shopkeepers to remain closed after daybreak.

The situation was reported calm today. (RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service assisted in this report.)


By Valentinas Mite

Speaking during an official visit to the Transcaucasus, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed disappointment over the way events transpired in nearby Kyrgyzstan.

"It is regrettable that once again, political problems in a post-Soviet country are being resolved in an illegitimate way and are accompanied by chaos and casualties," Putin said.

But the Russian leader also suggested that Moscow is ready to cooperate with the ascendant Kyrgyz opposition. Putin praised them for their contributions to bilateral relations between Russia and Kyrgyzstan.

"We know these people [the opposition] very well," Putin said. "They helped develop relations between Kyrgyzstan and the Russian Federation when they held government positions for several years in the past. They have done a lot to establish today's level of bilateral relations."

Russia's unique position at the heart of the former Soviet empire gives it considerable influence -- both direct and indirect -- in Central Asia.

Meanwhile, government leaders in Ukraine and Georgia -- where recent revolutions toppled post-Soviet leaders in favor of reform-minded opposition movements -- on Friday urged peaceful solutions to the problems in Kyrgyzstan. They also offered their governments' help.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko: "Georgia's Rose Revolution and Ukraine's Orange Revolution are both good answers to how such conflicts can be settled. Of course, we are offering our assistance in resolving this national conflict [in Kyrgyzstan]."

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili added that while Georgia's sympathies are with the Kyrgyz opposition, Tbilisi is not in the business of exporting trouble.

"We are not exporters of revolutions," Saakashvili said. "Our revolutions were similar [to Kyrgyz events]. That was not because someone fabricated them somewhere, but simply because people react to injustice in the same way in all countries."

Among Central Asian states like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, official reaction has ranged from cautious to nonexistent.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev offered his explanation of events in Kyrgyzstan to a group of business leaders in Astana today. He blamed Akaev's neglect of economic and social factors during more than a decade of rule. Nazarbaev said the Kyrgyz opposition was fueled by poverty and social ills, and the uprising made possible by lax security measures.

"It is absolutely clear that social and economic problems that accumulated for years in [Kyrgyzstan] have led to mass poverty and unemployment," Nazarbaev said. "This sparked unrest in many parts of the country. The weakness of the authorities also played its negative role in allowing rioters and thugs to act as they pleased."

Meanwhile, Turkmenistan's state-owned print and electronic media avoided altogether reporting on events in Kyrgyzstan.

The governments in neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan -- who had closed their borders at the height of the demonstrations to avoid the spread of instability -- have maintained official silence.

Opposition parties across the region -- from the Caucasus to Central Asia -- have been more outspoken.

One of the leaders of Kazakhstan's Ak Zhol opposition party, Bolat Abilov, told RFE/RL that yesterday's events in Kyrgyzstan carry a lesson for any dictators in the region.

"It is astounding," Abilov said. "It is a message for other dictators that changes are necessary, that people need fair elections, that people simply need decent elections. That is the main point."

A bloc of Kazakh opposition parties known as "For A Fair Kazakhstan" said in an open letter to the Kyrgyz people today that Kazakhs are proud of their Kyrgyz neighbors. They congratulated the Kyrgyz people for overthrowing what they describe as an "authoritarian" regime that was "based on clan and family relations."

The political opposition in Azerbaijan also welcomed the changes in Kyrgyzstan. Isa Ganbar of Azerbaijan's Musavat (Equality) Party said the demonstrations clearly showed that people are losing patience with lies and dictatorship.

Iqbal Agazade of the Umid (Hope) party suggested that events in Kyrgyzstan might eventually provide a boost to the Azerbaijani or Armenian oppositions. But he predicted that the early effects will be strongest among Kyrgyzstan's immediate neighbors.

"I wouldn't say that Kyrgyz developments would have an immediate effect on Azerbaijan or Armenia," Agazade said. "Surely it will affect -- especially Azerbaijan -- psychologically. But not in a direct way. I think the more immediate effect will be on the countries of the region, especially Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and also Kazakhstan."

Elections in Azerbaijan in October of 2003 were criticized by international observers as marred by fraud. The voting legitimized the transfer of power from Heydar Aliev to his son, Ilham. (RFE/RL's Kazakh, Azerbaijani, and Turkmen services contributed to this report.)

CENTRAL ASIAN OPPOSITION MOVEMENTS KEEP A CLOSE EYE ON KYRGYZSTAN Nigora Hidoyatova is the leader of the Uzbek opposition Free Peasant party. She argues that the regional fallout from the current unrest in Kyrgyzstan should not be underestimated.

"Without a doubt, the events in Jalal-Abad and Osh have enormous significance for the region. It finally indicates the collapse of those totalitarian and authoritarian regimes that came to power in the post-Soviet period," Hidoyatova said.

Hidoyatova was speaking before demonstrators in Bishkek occupied the presidential compound.

Hidoyatova suggests that Central Asia's current generation of leaders are an increasingly alienated elite whose days are numbered.

From Kazakhstan to Tajikistan, Central Asia's administrations are dominated by leaders whose power bases date back to the Soviet Union."I think events in Kyrgyzstan will affect other Central Asian states, especially Kazakhstan. Also, they could impact Turkmenistan, and Turkmen people might understand they also are responsible for their own fate."

The international community has criticized those regimes for their lack of respect for human rights and major curbs on political freedom -- including the outlawing of opposition parties. They enjoy limited ties outside the region, and their leaders have also balked at the kind of economic and bureaucratic reforms that critics say are necessary for true modernization.

In nearby Turkmenistan, President Saparmurat Niyazov has shrouded himself in a cult-like image to bolster an administration that has been in power since 1990.

Khudaiberdy Orazov, the leader of Turkmenistan's Watan (Motherland) party, says he's certain the Kyrgyz uprising will have an impact outside its borders.

"I think events in Kyrgyzstan will affect other Central Asian states, especially Kazakhstan. Also, they could impact Turkmenistan, and Turkmen people might understand they also are responsible for their own fate," Orazov said.

In Tajikistan, recent elections consolidated power in the hands of President Imomali Rakhmonov and his allies. International observers from the OSCE concluded that the voting fell short of international standards.

Shokir Hakimov is the deputy chairman of Tajikistan's opposition Social Democratic Party. He told RFE/RL that regional leaders are especially worried that protests in Kyrgyzstan might inspire opposition movements in other parts of Central Asia.

"The difficulties that the democratization process is facing in Kyrgyzstan are the same as in Tajikistan and the whole region. So impact [from events in Kyrgyzstan] cannot be avoided," Hakimov said.

A spokesman from the Tajik Foreign Ministry, Igor Sattorov, urged "a peaceful solution" to the uprising in Kyrgyzstan.

"These events cannot leave us indifferent. Tajikistan, which recently lived through the horrors of a civil war, has always called and continues to call for a peaceful resolution of these problems at the negotiating table, within the law and according to the constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic," Sattorov said.

That view likely reflects sentiments elsewhere in Central Asia, where other -- more authoritarian -- regimes remain in control. (RFE/RL's Uzbek, Tajik, and Turkmen services contributed to this report.)