5 April 2005, Volume 5, Number 12
WEEK AT A GLANCE (24 MARCH-3 APRIL). A whirlwind of revolutionary events swept through the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek on 24 March, as demonstrators stormed the seat of government and long-reigning President Askar Akaev fled the country. Thrust unexpectedly into power, opposition leaders found themselves facing a breakdown in order, a constitutional crisis, and the long-term prospect of bringing a brighter future to a country mired in forbidding social and economic problems.
Freed from prison by anti-Akaev protesters on 24 March, opposition leader Feliks Kulov took control of law enforcement and quickly reestablished order, but not before looters rampaged through Bishkek on the night of 24 March, leaving three dead and $100 million in damage. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev, leader of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, emerged as the country's interim leader.
After some confusion, the country's newly elected parliament was confirmed as the lawful legislature, although the protests that brought down the Akaev government began over allegations of massive fraud in 27 February and 13 March parliamentary elections. Derided by the opposition as "pro-Akaev" and "bought," the new parliament -- in which the opposition garnered a mere 10 percent of 75 seats -- emerged as a stopgap compromise in the first, postrevolutionary days. It soon confirmed Bakiev as prime minister and acting president.
For his part, Kulov soon stepped down from his post as overseer of law enforcement to set about reversing the corruption conviction he received under the ousted president, a conviction he and his supporters have always maintained was politically motivated. The rumor mill pointed to a presumed rift between the two top figures in the Kyrgyz revolution, especially in light of upcoming presidential elections, now set for 26 June. Bakiev has already declared his intention to run; Kulov's participation is widely expected.
Much else remained at issue in the postrevolutionary fervor. President Akaev first sent e-mails from an undisclosed location, and then gave interviews from somewhere near Moscow, denouncing a foreign-inspired coup. A Kyrgyz parliamentary delegation apparently succeeded in securing from Akaev an agreement to submit his formal resignation on 4 April. Acting President Bakiev promised to put an end to a wave of "arbitrary" appointments throughout the country. And acting Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva vowed that Kyrgyzstan would retain its foreign-policy priorities and continue to honor all commitments. Yet questions continued to outnumber answers, from the fate of the ousted president's reputedly extensive business interests in the country to the notoriously fractious opposition's ability to come together in a workable government to the population's willingness to accept the legitimacy of the very parliament that had sparked such momentous discontent.
Events elsewhere in Central Asia were considerably less dramatic, although the specter of upheaval in Kyrgyzstan loomed large as ruling elites and hopeful oppositions mulled the significance of Akaev's fall. Kazakhstan hosted a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Community on 24 March, bringing together the prime ministers of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyz First Deputy Prime Minister Kubanychbek Jumaliev to discuss the prospect of simultaneous World Trade Organization accession for Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. A court in Astana banned Hizb ut-Tahrir as an extremist organization. The opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, itself banned by court decision earlier this year, announced that it intends to re-form as a new party. And Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili visited Kazakhstan on 31 March to discuss future energy cooperation, including the possibility of shipping Kazakh oil through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.
Pakistan and Tajikistan signed a memorandum of understanding for the construction of a 700-kilometer power line for the export of Tajik electrical energy to Pakistan, a roughly $280 million project that could be completed by 2009. On 2 April, Collective Security Treaty Organization exercises involving troops from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan began in Tajikistan; the war games were hastily rescheduled and relocated after the upheaval in Kyrgyzstan, where they had originally been planned.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko visited Turkmenistan on 22-23 March. He failed to gain any price concessions from Turkmenistan, which raised the price of its gas exports to Ukraine in early 2005, but he proposed to Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov the creation of a gas consortium involving Russia, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine for the shipment of Turkmen gas to Europe.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov was apparently the first Central Asian leader to hold an official conversation with acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev. The two spoke by phone on 28 March, and official Uzbek reports stressed that the two sides held identical positions on the "causes and factors that led to the mass protests by the population and, in sum, the storming of the seat of government and change of regime."
HOW BISHKEK'S REVOLUTION HAPPENED SO FAST
By Daniel Kimmage
One thing is clear about the events that took place in Bishkek on 24 March: They ousted President Askar Akaev and sent him across the border at a run. Everything else raises questions. What were the opposition's plans and preparations for 24 March? What caused the confrontation that led to the storming of the presidential administration? And why did police fail to defend the seat of government?
As 24 March dawned, the air was rife with expectations that the opposition would try to mount a sizeable demonstration in the capital, although nothing presaged a decisive confrontation. Police in Bishkek had broken up an opposition demonstration of 1,000-1,500 the day before. And President Akaev had just appointed a seemingly hard-line new interior minister, Keneshbek Dushebaev, who promptly announced "We will not allow any seizures or sieges of government offices in the capital," Kabar news agency reported. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) captured the prevailing sense of how events were proceeding in a 23 March report citing sources in the opposition Coordinating Council who "said actions in Bishkek would take place in stages and would not be a one-day event."
Several accounts indicated that the opposition took pains to bring thousands of supporters into Bishkek without attracting undue attention in the lead-up to 24 March. Bayaman Erkinbaev, a well-known martial arts champion from Osh, told Russia's "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 March that 5,000 opposition activists from Osh and Jalal-Abad were already in Bishkek. Kyrgyzstan's "Delo No" reported on 30 March that 6,000 people had arrived secretly from Osh, Jalal-Abad, Naryn, and Talas before 24 March. IWPR reported on 23 March that protesters had been arriving in small groups for several days from precisely those locations (not all of them, it should be noted, in the south of Kyrgyzstan, traditionally cited as the hotbed of anti-Akaev sentiment). And Russia's "Novaya gazeta" reported on 28 March that the opposition had decided to bring in supporters in small groups after rumors that buses might be targeted with gunfire.
Marchers began to gather at several locations in Bishkek on the morning of 24 March. This plan was sufficiently well-known that "Kommersant-Daily," in the edition that appeared on 24 March, reported that the opposition intended on that day to stage five demonstrations, each numbering 5,000, in five different places. Roza Otunbaeva, the co-chair of Ata-Jurt and now acting foreign minister, had telegraphed the opposition's focus on Bishkek in a 22 March interview with Russia's "Izvestiya," saying, "We already control fairly large territories. It will soon be half of the country. The next goal, of course, is Bishkek, the presidential administration."
Not Part Of The Plan?
Opposition leaders have maintained that they had no plans to storm the presidential compound and all reports indicate that the actual event took them by surprise. In a typical comment, Kurmanbek Bakiev, head of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan and now acting president and prime minister, told RFE/RL shortly after demonstrators swarmed the presidential administration, "We did not expect that at all. It was not a part of the plan."
But at least one person in Bishkek appears to have had an inkling that 24 March might be a decisive day. Jenishbek Nazaraliev is a prominent doctor who runs a clinic for drug addicts in Bishkek. On the morning of 24 March, as protesters massed outside the clinic, the doctor, who stressed that he was with "the people" and had no ties to the opposition, had the following exchange with "Kommersant-Daily" correspondent Mikhail Zygar:
Nazaraliev: All of our actions will be peaceful, but if the militia opens fire, we won't back down. We'll answer them shot for shot. (He grabs a rifle and shakes it in the air.)
Zygar: Are you sure that you'll topple Akaev today? You're not going to wait for presidential elections in October? Nazaraliev: No, only today. We won't back down already. We'll sweep away this regime this very day.
(In an interview with Reuters on 28 March, however, Nazaraliev seemed to back down from his prescient enthusiasm of a few days earlier. He said, "I had originally expected the government to fall in two to five days.")
At around noon on 24 March, marchers arrived on Alatoo Square to rally in front of the presidential administration, or "White House." Reports differ on precise details, but most mention two main columns, one originating at Nazaraliev's clinic and another, led by Almaz Atambaev, beginning in another part of the city and arriving somewhat later. Estimates of the total crowd on the square ranged from 5,000 to 50,000 (the latter figure coming in Britain's "The Times" but with most estimates tending toward the lower end of the spectrum). The number of police was around 400 ("Delo No" and "ResPublica").
Events Turn Violent
Clashes soon erupted. As is always the case in a mass event marred by violence, individual eyewitness accounts varied. But virtually all reports noted that demonstrators faced both uniformed police and plainclothes Akaev supporters, often described as agents provocateurs, who wore either white baseball caps or blue armbands. The white baseball caps were not making their first appearance. In a detailed description of the 23 March rally in Bishkek, opposition journalist Bolotbek Maripov wrote in "Obshchestvennyi reiting" that men wearing white baseball caps helped riot police as they violently dispersed protesters. IWPR's description of the same event also mentioned men in white baseball caps.
Britain's "Observer" reported that on 24 March the authorities "bussed in hundreds of sympathizers, most state industrial workers." The newspaper "Kommersant-Daily" confirmed this, reporting that the men were employees of the state electrical company who were given the day off with full pay to support "law and order" in the face of unruly demonstrators. But one of the men told the newspaper, "I don't like Akaev at all. His family's bought everything up. They make it impossible for everyone else." Queried by the correspondent why he didn't join the opposition demonstration, the man replied, "What's the difference? They're no different from Akaev."
When clashes broke out between demonstrators and Akaev supporters in caps and armbands, the mood turned ugly, RFE/RL reported. At some point, mounted police joined the fray, although protesters managed to pull down at least one rider, "Delo No" reported. During the fighting, demonstrators armed themselves with stones, but some had come to the square prepared. RFE/RL reported that as marchers set off for the White House in the morning, they included a "hardcore group of a few hundred [young men], most of them equipped with wooden sticks and wooden shields."
(Only Russia's "Novaya Gazeta" provided an alternate explanation for the demonstration's descent into violence. It reported that while some fights broke out early on, a sea change occurred when two reports reached the crowd -- that the interior minister had said police would use force, and that Bermet Akaeva, the daughter of President Askar Akaev, had described demonstrators as "drunken cattle.")
Police were also involved in the violence, but they did not use deadly force and were heavily outnumbered. IWPR reported that "many of the police on duty did not put up much resistance," although not all accounts confirmed this. RFE/RL reported that police briefly had the upper hand before giving way. But by 3:00 p.m., the White House had fallen to protesters amid general chaos.
Why No Crackdown?
The most pressing question about the events of 24 March is the authorities' decision not to use deadly force against protesters. Ousted President Akaev has stressed in several interviews that this was his decision. He told Britain's "The Guardian" on 31 March that he ruled out the use of force even though he had been advised, although he did not say by whom, to "protect the building with armed special forces."
The words and actions of then Interior Minister Keneshbek Dushebaev on 24 March, however, suggest that the decision may not have been Akaev's to make by the time demonstrators massed on Alatoo Square. On 23 March, Dushebaev had confidently stated that police can use "any legal means, including physical force, anti-riot gear, and authorized weapons" in order to establish "constitutional order," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. But as protesters gathered at Nazaraliev's clinic on the morning of 24 March, Dushebaev was a surprise guest. Addressing the crowd, he struck a different tone, although accounts of his remarks differ somewhat. IWPR simply reported that he was "hissed off the stage." "ResPublica" reported that Dushebaev told protesters to disperse, and was ignored. And "Delo No" reported that Dushebaev urged demonstrators to obey the law, promising that police would not use weapons or riot gear.
More importantly, when Dushebaev spoke briefly with "Kommersant-Daily" at the clinic, he noted that while the law gives the police the right to use "gas, rubber bullets, and truncheons...I myself am with the people and I want to show that all of the police are with the people." Queried, "What if the president orders you to shoot," Dushebaev replied, "He can't give me an order like that. I'm the only one who gives orders to the police, and I won't give such an order." "Kommersant-Daily" also reported that Dushebaev met with opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiev shortly after making this remark.
The events of 24 March unfolded against a backdrop of quickening opposition momentum and rising stakes for President Akaev. Days earlier, riot police had retaken government offices in Osh and Jalal-Abad only to see them reoccupied by protesters. Having encountered and overcome a violent challenge, the opposition took steps to foil further security measures, moving some of its supporters to the capital as unobtrusively as possible, even as it planned a show of strength in Bishkek. Akaev, fresh from his failure to reassert control over Osh and Jalal-Abad with a limited show of force, now faced the prospect of a more crucial showdown.
There was a "dress rehearsal" for the showdown -- the antigovernment demonstration on 23 March. It featured 1,000-1,500 demonstrators and 200-400 police, plus additional agent provocateurs in white baseball caps, according to combined reports. Government forces made quick work of the protest.
The next day, when the opposition finally managed to bring thousands to the streets, most accounts indicated that demonstrators acted with greater resolve in the face of agents provocateurs. And police were apparently in a less favorable ratio to demonstrators than they had been the day before. Moreover, the interior minister's behavior on 24 March would seem to indicate that the use of deadly force was off the table no matter what orders the president may nor may not have given.
In sum, the opposition demonstration on 24 March marked both a logical continuation of preceding protests and a response to previous government actions. But the measures the government took that day to counteract it displayed neither unity of purpose nor clarity of logic, raising the possibility of gross miscalculation, internal division, or perhaps simply precipitate collapse in the face of mounting crisis.
KYRGYZ YOUTH GROUP SAYS FIGHT NOT OVER
By Jean-Christophe Peuch
In the weeks that preceded the Kyrgyz revolution, many believed the KelKel youth organization would spearhead political changes in the country, just as similar groups had done in Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine. It isn't clear to what extent KelKel was ultimately responsible for the 24 March upheaval. But KelKel did claim a significant role in helping Kyrgyzstan's new authorities restore order in Bishkek. Life is slowly returning to normal in the Central Asian nation. And KelKel leaders say they will be carefully watching the interim leadership that succeeded the government of ousted President Askar Akaev.
On 24 March, hundreds of demonstrators gathered on Alatoo Square, in front of Bishkek's Historical Museum, to demand the resignation of President Askar Akaev and his government. A few minutes later, clashes erupted between the protesters and alleged government-hired agitators. The incident infuriated the crowd, which started confronting police forces and Interior Ministry troops deployed around the nearby White House. Thirty minutes later, the White House that had once housed Akaev and his ministers was already under the control of street crowds. Scores of looters immediately began to plunder the building, throwing furniture through windows and bewildering opposition activists gathered below, such as Cholpon Bakieva.
"Everything happened in a flash," she said. "It happened so quickly that at first I didn't feel anything. I was in a state of shock. For approximately half an hour, I lost all sense of reality. Then people started pulling themselves together, started understanding what had happened. Then I felt joy. Radical thoughts came into my mind -- the people's power had come. Then I had more sober thoughts. What will happen now? Who will assume power? What should we do now, after all this?"
Bakieva, who is in her early 20s, is a member of the organizational committee of KelKel (New Epoch), Kyrgyzstan's main youth organization. She joined dozens of other group activists on 24 March on Alatoo Square -- to help control the crowd, but also to participate in the demonstration.
KelKel's national coordinator, Alisher Mamasaliev, was also on the square when the angry crowd assaulted security forces. He told RFE/RL that activists thought opposition leaders were failing to respond quickly to the rising chaos. "When the looting started, we expected that the opposition leadership would order us to form a cordon and take the whole perimeter under control," Mamasaliev said. "We waited, waited, and started collecting a few things. Then we understood that we didn't have to wait for an order."
Mamasaliev said KelKel members decided to take the perimeter under control themselves, and started telling people to stop plundering the White House. The 30-year-old KelKel coordinator also says his group had to protect soldiers and policemen from the wrath of the crowd. "As I understood, there were agitators on our side who wanted to fight," Mamasaliev said. "We had to intervene between our guys, the protesters, and those young soldiers. They were all around 18 and had fear in their eyes. They didn't know what to do. Their commanding officer didn't know either. So we suggested they should leave, simply leave."
Following the looting that took place overnight throughout Bishkek, KelKel heeded the appeal launched by Feliks Kulov, the former interior minister who had been released from jail in the hours that followed the taking over of the White House, and undertook to recruit volunteers to help police restore some kind of public order.
Unlike what happened in Georgia in November 2003, when opposition leaders led protesters into the parliament's building and forced President Eduard Shevardnadze to flee, the Bishkek events look more like a spontaneous uprising. Mamasaliev said he had expected the protests to build up slowly in an organized fashion. "We thought we would follow a Ukrainian scenario and organize pickets during four or five days," he said. "We thought we would organize pickets, strikes, and that eventually the international community would exert pressure on [Akaev] so that he would agree to enter into talks with the opposition."
Yet, as KelKel activist Damira Ulukbaeva remembers, there were a few group activists among those people who took over the government headquarters. She said most of them were from those Kyrgyz cities that had come under opposition control in the days preceding the Bishkek events. "In all these cities -- Osh, Jalal-Abad, Talas, Kochkor, Aksy -- we had our representatives, and we were already conducting work," she said. "Those representatives of ours took part in the [Bishkek] demonstrations and in the storming of the White House."
Mamasaliev also said that in the hours that followed the ousting of Akaev's government, it did not occur to the opposition leaders congregated in parliament that the situation might get out of control. "On the 24th, I spoke before the [new] parliament. I was still in a state of great excitement, and I simply yelled at them. I went there and was appalled," Mamasaliev said. "There was chaos in the streets and these people were sitting quietly, all neatly dressed. They were smiling, congratulating each other, discussing unimportant things. I was incensed, and I yelled at them: 'Do you guys realize that every 30 minutes something big is happening in the city? Come on, take action!'"
KelKel was set up in January with a view to inciting the Kyrgyz youth to be more politically active. During the run-up to 27 February and 13 March legislative polls, the group appealed to youth across the country to vote against a government they accused of corruption and authoritarian practices.
In the longer run, KelKel wanted to make sure that Akaev would not be a candidate in the next presidential polls, originally scheduled for 30 October. Although the Kyrgyz leader was forbidden by law to seek a third term, critics feared he would press a more compliant parliament to amend the constitution so that he would be able to run again.
Unlike Kmara (Enough), the youth organization that took an active part in Georgia's Rose Revolution, KelKel claims it has no formal links with the Kyrgyz opposition figures now making up the interim leadership. Moreover, KelKel -- which has 1,000 members and claims to be growing -- warns it will keep the country's new leaders under a watchful eye.
Mamasaliev said KelKel already has questions regarding the composition of the new government and an attempt by the country's new leadership to impose control over national television. He said his group has a responsibility to "defend the achievements" of the revolution. "If the policy conducted by [Prime Minister and interim President Kurmanbek] Bakiev runs counter to our expectations -- and this is not only my personal opinion, I think this is also the opinion of all the members of our organization -- we will remain an alternative for civil society," he said. "We would like to exert control on the government and, if we are unhappy [with political developments], we will again stage rallies."
Despite their queries, KelKel leaders said they are optimistic for Kyrgyzstan's future. Asked whether he believes his and other civic groups will be able to influence political developments in the country, Mamasaliev responded, "Of course, we will. What do you think the people rose up for?" (Originally published on 31 March)
ARE FURTHER REVOLUTIONS INEVITABLE IN THE CIS?
By Jeremy Bransten
Kyrgyzstan's deposed president had blunt advice from his forced exile in Russia this week. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio, Akaev was asked what he would counsel his fellow CIS presidents if they faced popular uprisings that threatened to topple their governments. His answer: Learn from my mistake; use force.
"What lesson did I learn from the 24 March events?" Akaev said. "Our democracy is still weak, and it cannot protect itself. So I would advise my colleagues to protect democratic gains, including with the use of force if needed."
It is easy to see how Akaev might draw such a conclusion. If the Georgian, Ukrainian, and Kyrgyz popular uprisings have one thing in common, it is that they succeeded in part because massive force was not employed against unarmed demonstrators.
But few observers believe violence would have stabilized the situation in any of these countries. If a leader is confronted with the choice between fleeing and shooting his own people, the situation has already spun out of control. The more interesting question, say analysts, is how Akaev was backed into a corner -- and whether his mistakes are being repeated by other leaders in the CIS, making them vulnerable?
Sergei Luzyanin of the Moscow Institute for International Relations (MGIMO) said Akaev made several cardinal mistakes that weakened his rule. The first was to violate an unspoken power-sharing agreement between representatives of the country's northern and southern clans. Akaev, a northerner, kept all the patronage posts for his northern allies.
"Traditionally, especially at the local government level, even back in the Soviet period, there was a regular alternation between the northern and southern clans," Luzyanin said. "Under Akaev, this regular exchange was disrupted, and the northern clan --- Akaev's clan -- controlled the southern regions and the southern clans were dissatisfied. This is why Osh, Jalal-Abad, Batken blew up -- because a feeling of social injustice has accumulated there during the 14 years of Akaev's rule. The unspoken rule [about the alternation between north and south], which had always been observed, was broken."
Akaev went one step further, gradually bringing his extended family into the political process. Such nepotism came at the expense of even his northern political backers, breeding resentment within his own bureaucracy. This turned into his Achilles' heel, Luzyanin said, as civil servants lost any sense of loyalty to the regime.
"[The civil servants] all were saying: 'We're against him. But we're biding our time, and as soon as we see the first signal, we will hand over our boss.' Which is exactly what happened," Luzyanin said. "Seventy percent of government bureaucrats -- including some very important ones -- as soon as it became clear that Akaev's power was set to crumble, immediately switched to the other side, either by directly backing them or at least remaining neutral in relation to the opposition."
Thanks to a faltering economy, aspects of a free press, and the presence of nongovernmental organizations, many Kyrgyz were aware of the situation and deeply dissatisfied.
Murad Esenov, editor of the Sweden-based "Central Asia and the Caucasus" journal, said the fact that Kyrgyzstan -- like Georgia and Ukraine -- was relatively more democratic than other CIS countries speeded the demise of the regime.
"Many people think the Akaev regime fell very quickly, but I don't share this opinion," Esenov said. "You need to look at what came before recent events. We know very well that in Kyrgyzstan, nongovernmental organizations and a [partially] free media functioned, and they had been criticizing the government's policies very harshly, for a very long time. Since the government wasn't doing a very good job, public opinion against the government had already been formed."
The key ingredients to a popular uprising seem to be clear: a corrupt government that cannot distribute favors to enough people to maintain support, perceived economic hardship, and traces of democracy and partial freedom of the press -- so that people become aware of the problem. In the case of Ukraine, the economy was not failing. But analysts say there was no trickle-down effect. Because of corruption, few people sensed any improvement in their economic situation, despite statistics. Lastly, rigged elections triggered public outcry in all three cases -- Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan.
If there is one country in the CIS that best matches these criteria, Esenov says, it is arguably Kazakhstan. Like the Kyrgyz president, Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbaev has concentrated power in his extended family. The Kazakh economy is doing well on paper, but few people benefit. And thanks to partial freedom of the press, the Kazakh public is informed and opposition movements are growing.
"In Kazakhstan, the people do have a certain amount of room to express their opinion," Esenov said. "When people can express their opinions and the government has become mired in corruption, naturally you get a situation, such as the one we saw in Georgia and Ukraine and in Kyrgyzstan."
Luzyanin agreed. But he also said Nazarbaev has more at stake than Akaev. That makes a confrontation with the opposition potentially more dangerous.
"In Kazakhstan, the opposition is stronger, better organized, and more united," Luzyanin said. "It is also true that the authorities are also more organized, tougher, and more motivated that the Akaev leadership. Akaev was on his way out; he was nearing the end of his term and he was not so motivated. But it's a different matter for Nazarbaev. It is absolutely clear that an escalation of this political struggle will now shift to Kazakhstan. And it will be more systematic and on a larger scale. The ultimate results are not clear. We cannot say that the opposition will triumph next year or at the end of this year. But the fact that the political situation will heat up is clear."
Some people have also pointed to Azerbaijan as a possible candidate for unrest, noting upcoming elections in November and previous clashes between the government and opposition. But Esenov believes the economic situation in the country is less dire than in Central Asia, making a revolution scenario less likely.
"In Baku, unlike in Georgia or Kyrgyzstan, there is not the same degree of poverty," Esenov said. "There is not the same level of unemployment. These factors, I believe, make the prospect of a revolution in Baku more distant. I don't think there will be a revolution in Baku, in connection with the elections in November. Although there is dissatisfaction, undeniably, it has not taken over society to an overwhelming degree."
Esenov also said that, unlike their Kazakh counterparts, the Azerbaijani authorities have made a significant effort to co-opt the nation's young people and university students, to keep them off the streets.
"In Azerbaijan, young people and students have been largely drawn into politics -- but on the government's side," he said. "For example, the youth wing of the [ruling] party -- Yeni Azerbaijan -- has been very active. The youth wing of the party is active in all institutions of higher learning. They have meetings with students, hold discussions, even readings of [President Heidar] Aliyev's works. They know that youth are the driving force of any revolution and this pro-government party is doing its utmost to co-opt young people and bring them under their influence. And I have not seen this in Kazakhstan."
If a country's leader is unable to deliver tangible economic benefits to the people and wants to remain in power, is the answer to clamp down on democratic movements? The apparent stability of highly autocratic regimes in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Belarus would seem to indicate "yes."
Popular dissatisfaction is subjective by nature, so if people are not aware of alternatives, they might continue to passively support a repressive regime. But Luzyanin said this cannot continue over the long term and, as with the former USSR, apparent stability can be illusory. "[These regimes] are more stable. But it does not mean that the system is strong," he said. "The paradox is that the harsher the regime, and the more it outwardly resembles a fortress, the quicker it can collapse -- all at once. History knows many such examples."
As Ukraine's Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko noted last week, there will be other revolutions in the CIS. When and where remains the big question. But they will happen, she and other successful revolutionaries believe. (Originally published on 31 March)
WHAT CHANGES DID KYRGYZ REVOLUTION BRING?
By Gulnoza Saidazimova
Before coming to power on 24 March, Kyrgyz opposition leaders had two demands: President Askar Akaev should resign, and the results of the recent parliamentary vote should be thrown out.
The opposition got half its wish. On 29 March, Kyrgyzstan granted legitimacy to its newly elected single-chamber parliament. But some observers are asking: what was the purpose of the so-called revolution in Kyrgyzstan if the parliamentary elections that sparked the unrest are now considered legitimate? Has the past week really brought dramatic change to Kyrgyzstan?
Sergei Mikheev of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies said "no" is the answer: "What we're seeing now is an absurd situation. It's gone back to the situation we had before [the opposition] took power -- to a 'prerevolution" situation, only without Akaev. What happened is simply the redistribution of authority among different influential groups within the elite."
Andrei Chebotarev of the Kazakhstan-based Institute for National Research told RFE/RL the decision to restore the mandate of the newly elected parliament was a compromise of sorts. Akaev has not yet formally resigned, leaving the opposition in a legal vacuum. In order to establish stability, Chebotarev said, they may have been forced to strike a deal with the new legislature: "The primary task of the victorious opposition is to form new institutions of power. I believe the opposition didn't control the situation [on 24 March]. The current coexistence of the interim President [Kurmanbek] Bakiev representing the opposition, on the one hand, and [the pro-Akaev] parliament, on the other, is the result of a compromise reached in order to prevent further instability in the country."
Mikheev said Bakiev had no choice but to come to an agreement with some of the newly elected deputies: "The people who are calling themselves the 'opposition leaders' and are now in power aren't actually in control of the situation. They don't have [the resources needed to establish control]. Bakiev was forced to recognize the legitimacy of the new parliament. He was unable to confront the newly elected deputies, many of whom are very high-profile businessmen and influential people, or people with connections to the criminal world."
Edil Baysalov heads For Democracy and Civil Society, a coalition of Kyrgyz nongovernmental organizations that was the largest monitoring group during the parliamentary elections. He said even those observers who have criticized voting in some districts as fraudulent should concede that in many constituencies the winners are inarguably legitimate. "The discontent felt by our group, by the opposition and by society was caused by the concrete local cases of 19 constituencies," he said. "The local process in some constituencies resulted in a national revolution. But no one has the right to call the entire new parliament illegitimate. We will investigate those constituencies where there have been allegations of fraud."
Baysalov told RFE/RL that a new round of elections is to be held in several constituencies where the most serious fraud was seen. Among the contested districts is Bishkek's University constituency, where Askar Akaev's daughter Bermet won a parliament seat. Aydar Akaev, the son of the president, also won a seat in the Kemin constituency. But Baysalov said that vote is not being contested, as Akaev won an outright first-round victory.
The current truce between the new legislature and the new government is likely to be a temporary measure on both sides. Mikheev of the Center for Political Technologies said both Bakiev and the new lawmakers have the potential to swing events in their favor: "We should take into account that if the new parliament is legitimate, then the last constitution [amended in 2003] by Akaev is also legitimate. This constitution gives many more rights to the new parliament than to the old one. According to amendments, the president transferred part of his authority to the legislature. It means that even if Bakiev wins presidential elections, he is likely to become a nominal figure that is subordinate to a parliament with a pro-Akaev majority."
At the same time, under current legislation, whoever wins presidential elections will have the right to dissolve the parliament.
The biggest change resulting from last week's events, says Mikheev, is that there used to be just one center of power -- Akaev's. Now, power is distributed among several politicians and their supporters. Observers can expect to see a battle among them to consolidate authority. But for ordinary Kyrgyz, more meaningful "revolutionary" changes have yet to be seen. (Originally published on 29 March)
KYRGYZ DEVELOPMENTS WORRY IRAN, BUT UNLIKELY TO HAVE LASTING IMPACT
By Bill Samii
The Iranian Foreign Ministry reacted cautiously when asked about the recent ouster of Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, who fled from Bishkek following the storming of government offices by protesters. Spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said Iran is monitoring developments and added, "We hope conditions in Kyrgyzstan will return to normal as soon as possible," IRNA reported on 26 March.
Tehran has worked hard in recent years to strengthen its relationship with the Akaev government, but the Iranian government cannot be expected to openly protest the democratic aspirations of the Kyrgyz people. Nevertheless, some Iranian officials have attributed the events in the Central Asian republic to the United States, which reflects their concern about the large U.S. presence in the region.
Commercial relations between Iran and Kyrgyzstan -- which has a population of 5 million -- are insignificant. The Central Asian state mainly exports agricultural goods (cotton, wool, meat, tobacco), minerals (gold, mercury, uranium), energy (natural gas, hydropower), and manufactured goods (machinery, shoes) to the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Russia, Kazakhstan, Canada, and China. Kyrgyzstan imports oil, gas, chemicals, food, and manufactured goods, mostly from Russia, Kazakhstan, China, the United States, Uzbekistan, and Germany.
However, Tehran is eager to become a larger trading partner and a number of official delegations have exchanged visits recently.
Iranian First Vice President Mohammad-Reza Aref-Yazdi, Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari, and Health Minister Masud Pezeshkian met with Akaev and other officials in Bishkek in October 2004. At this time the two sides signed four memoranda of understanding on health, electricity transmission, and trade. Shariatmadari led another delegation to Kyrgyzstan in May 2004.
Significantly, Akaev's December 2003 visit to Iran yielded an Iranian government allocation of $10 million for investment in the Kyrgyz economy (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 January 2004). The two sides signed seven memoranda of understanding -- on trade, tariffs, and trade centers; visa regulations; legal affairs; cultural and artistic cooperation; and housing and urban development. Akaev met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, then speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran is demonstrating every day growing interest in developing and expanding its relations with Kyrgyzstan, in particular in the economy," Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aytamov said on 26 December 2003, Kyrgyzinfo reported.
The two countries also interact in multilateral forums. Both Kyrgyzstan and Iran are members of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), and Khatami and Akaev met on the sidelines of the September 2004 ECO summit in Dushanbe. Foreign Minister Kharrazi visited Kyrgyzstan in June 2003 to participate in a meeting of ECO foreign ministers.
Although the Iranian Foreign Ministry was restrained in its reaction to developments in Kyrgyzstan, the country's leaders have expressed a great deal of concern about the expanding U.S. presence in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Persian Gulf. Some official comments, therefore, reflect this concern.
Expediency Council Chairman Hashemi-Rafsanjani saw Kyrgyz events in the context of what is taking place in Lebanon and Iraq. He said during his Friday prayers sermon on 25 March, which was broadcast by state radio. "You can see what America's mischief is doing in Lebanon. A country that was managing itself competently is now in crisis. You can see what they have done in Kyrgyzstan. You can see how they are toying with the people of Iraq." Hashemi-Rafsanjani continued: "We are faced with a creeping move designed by America aimed at dominating other countries and plundering their natural resources. We hope to repel America's evil intentions by relying on God and the revolution, holding fast to the covenant of God, which is Koran, and vigilance."
A 25 March Iranian state television commentary said events in Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia show that these countries are "the focus of foreign powers' attention." Western and particularly U.S. interference is responsible for events in Kyrgyzstan, it claimed. The commentary claimed some 50 nongovernmental organizations that were established in Kyrgyzstan recently "played a fundamental role in the crisis." It said the United States wants friendly governments in these countries because they possess energy resources, uranium, and nuclear technology.
Iranian state television also played the religion card, albeit inaccurately. It is "noteworthy," according to the commentary, that "such developments have occurred in countries [in which] the majority of the inhabitants are Muslims, which clearly shows the process of the expansionist and hegemonic policies of America." Islam is the majority faith in Kyrgyzstan (Muslim 75 percent, Russian Orthodox 20 percent, other 5 percent), but not in Moldova (Eastern Orthodox 98 percent), Ukraine (mainly Ukrainian Orthodox), or Georgia (Georgian Orthodox 65 percent, Muslim 11 percent, Russian Orthodox 10 percent, Armenian Apostolic 8 percent, unknown 6 percent).
The situation in Bishkek has calmed down since last week. During the current Noruz holidays in Iran, furthermore, most politicians are on vacation and newspapers are not being published. Unless the emerging Kyrgyz government makes some blatantly anti-Iranian comments or takes actions that seem hostile, it is likely that the two countries' relations will continue along the same path. (Originally published on 29 March)