Books on Kyrgyzstan
Update No: 299 - (28/11/05)
Turbulence still there
The Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan in March has not lead to peace and
tranquillity. Revolutions rarely do. One just has to think of the French
Revolution itself, the prototype of all revolutions.
The revolution has unleashed a new confidence in the different clans that make
up the country and factions in Bishkek that they can take charge of their own
destiny. Of course the actors are playing the drama out on a far smaller stage
than with the great French precedent.
A main concern is that political tension in Bishkek could deepen the divide,
marked by a high mountain chain, separating residents of northern Kyrgyzstan
from southerners. Many northerners associate the rise in crime and corruption
with the March revolution, which was led mainly by politicians with southern
political roots, including President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
In a broader sense, the political wrangling is prompting many Kyrgyz to lose
faith in the revolution's potential to bring about a more responsive government.
The great popular complaint against Akayev's regime was that it had grown out of
touch with the day-to-day concerns of the population.
Now, the perception is growing among Kyrgyz citizens that members of the
executive and legislative branches are once again intent mainly on accumulating
personal wealth and gaining control over income-generating state assets, instead
of working to improve socio-economic conditions in the country and to keep it
The revolution in Kyrgyzstan is at risk, as the country's new president and
parliament find themselves on a collision course, as well as the president and
Two recent developments - the dismissal of Azimbek Beknazarov as prosecutor
general, and the assassination of MP Bayaman Erkinbayev - have intensified a
long-simmering power struggle involving the executive and legislative branches.
The incidents also underscore the prominent role of criminal elements in Kyrgyz
President Kurmanbek Bakiyev dismissed Beknazarov on September 19th. Beknazarov
had been aggressively pursuing corruption cases, including several involving
friends and relatives of former president Askar Akayev, who fled the country
amid the Tulip Revolution in March, but in addition investigating highly placed
people now in positions of power. Officially, presidential aides attributed the
dismissal to supposed malfeasance in two particular cases, one involving the
murder of prominent businessman Abdalim Junusov and the other related to a
shooting incident at a hotel in the southern city of Osh.
Foreign minister gives his view
Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Alikbek Dzhekshenbulov was in Moscow on November
17th where he made some revealing comments on the situation. He admitted that
the current political situation in Kyrgyzstan was serious, but expressed
confidence there was no need to bring Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)
peacekeepers into the country.
"I would like to say clearly that Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Prime
Minister Felix Kulov and we, as members of the government, will prevent a civil
war," Dzhekshenkulov said.
Moving CIS peacekeepers into Kyrgyzstan "is possible in theory, but this
kind of domestic political situation is not anticipated," he said.
The latest developments in Kyrgyzstan "are directly linked with the deep
and ongoing processes of change taking place in Kyrgyzstan after the March
revolution," he said.
He expressed hope that "the world community, including Russia, will show
understanding of the events that have occurred in the country and will help the
new government surmount difficulties and build success upon that which has been
achieved in the short time since the revolution."
Islamic extremism poses a threat to Kyrgyzstan, he said and called for
international help in dealing with it.
"As religious extremism is a global problem, a problem that even larger and
more powerful countries cannot counter single-handedly, it is undoubtedly
difficult for small Kyrgyzstan to cope with this threat on its own. We hope that
institutions, a legal base and forms of interaction will be developed within the
frameworks of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security
Treaty Organization that will counteract such forces effectively," he said.
Promoting media freedom proving more difficult than originally anticipated
Establishing new boundaries for mass media outlets in Kyrgyzstan is proving
more difficult than originally anticipated. In the meantime, Bakiyev's
administration appears to be steadily widening its influence over broadcast and
Draft legislation on media freedom and on journalists' rights and
responsibilities has been developed by parliamentary working groups. The
legislation, however, remains under review by Bakiyev administration experts.
Some Bakiyev critics complain that the president is stalling on the legislation.
On November 7, Miklos Haraszti, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe's representative on media freedom, announced that his office had
completed detailed reviews of the draft laws. In a letter to Kyrgyz Foreign
Minister Alibek Djekshenkulov, Haraszti wrote: "While the reviews provide
some very positive signs with regard to the legal situation concerning media,
there are still a number of issues which are of concern and hinder the activity
of journalists and the functioning of the media in your country."
In some instances, the language contained in the legislation needs to be
clarified, OSCE experts suggest. One bill, the draft Law on Mass Media, came
under criticism for containing "illegitimate content restrictions,"
said one review prepared by the global media freedom group Article 19, under the
auspices of the OSCE. "Some restrictions," the review states,
"are so vague that they could mean almost anything. The prohibition on
printing 'unprintable expressions' is probably the best example of [such]
As debate continues on the creation of a new media framework, some observers in
Bishkek express caution about the growing influence of the Bakiyev
administration over mass media. The concern is rooted in the fact that prior to
his ouster in the March revolution, former president Askar Akayev managed to
establish control over most major media outlets in the country. The March
revolution raised reasonable expectations that the country's media would gain
independence from government interference.
But old habits seem to die hard. In mid-October, the government announced it was
re-privatising KOORT, a television station once controlled by Akayev's
son-in-law Adil Toigonbayev. Following the March revolution, the station had
remained critical of Bakiyev. An attempt to install a new management team,
comprising Bakiyev's administration loyalists, started an employee revolt at the
station, forcing officials to back off.
At about the same time, officials ordered the return of the Vecherny Bishkek
newspaper to Alexander Kim, who was the leading opposition media figure during
the Akayev era.
Since the March revolution, however, Kim has become closely aligned with the
Bakiyev administration. For example, during the presidential election campaign
in June, another Kim-controlled newspaper, MSN, appeared to favour Bakiyev in
its coverage over other candidates. Some observers in Bishkek say that Vecherny
Bishkek -- which, like KOORT TV was formerly controlled by Toigonbayev - is now
mimicking MSN's pro-Bakiyev editorial stance.
Perhaps the most unbiased media outlet since the March revolution has been state
television, analysts in Bishkek say. During the Akayev era, the channel, NTRK,
was tightly controlled by the presidential administration. But almost
immediately after Akayev fled into exile, NTRK directors adopted an independent
editorial philosophy. Since the presidential election in July, won handily by
Bakiyev, observers have noted a tendency of the channel to back administration
Bakiyev in recent months has faced increasing political opposition to his
agenda, but there are only a few media outlets that feature regular criticism of
the presidential administration.
One such channel is Pyramid TV, yet another outlet once part of Toigonbayev's
Another is the NTS channel, which began broadcasting in early 2005, and has
quickly attracted a large audience share with its sleek production values. The
station has also managed to recruit many top journalists from other media
outlets. According to Bermet Bukasheva, an aide to Parliament Speaker Omurbek
Tekebayev, NTS has "Russian capital but does not belong neither to Akayev
A can of worms opens up
The Tulip Revolution is leading to all sorts of revelations about the
previous regime. It is becoming clear that the Akayev regime was even more
corrupt than was thought.
These help to bolster the legitimacy of the new government, although they also
by implication set it high standards to live up to.
There is one that is particularly important because it concerns the Americans.
It must be gratifying for Bishkek to hold the high moral ground here over
Washington, whose sermonizing about democracy, etc, does rather grate on the
nerves of all who are subjected to it. It also gives it greater leverage in
Soon after the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Pentagon opened an
air base here in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and made a deal to get jet fuel from
the only two suppliers available. The companies just happened to be linked to
relatives of the country's president.
Now the two businesses are under scrutiny by Kyrgyz prosecutors and US Federal
Bureau of Investigation agents who are looking into whether the man who was then
the president, Askar Akayev, and his family pocketed hundreds of millions of
dollars, partly from Pentagon fuel contracts, before being ousted in March.
The family's involvement at the Bishkek base, a critical site for refuelling US
Air Force planes flying over Afghanistan, is seen as a story of everyday
cronyism in an impoverished country where the Americans' arrival was apparently
a financial windfall for the well connected.
But the case also illustrates how the Pentagon, needing new bases in Central
Asia after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has forged alliances that have
required difficult choices about when to protest - and when to ignore -
corruption, human rights abuses and other unsavoury practices in countries
important to the military effort.
"The Pentagon was doing contracts that they knew were going to benefit the
ruling family," said Scott Horton, an American lawyer who says he was
informally consulted by the Kyrgyz government at the time the base was
"It was very clear that this was an effort to secure the support of the old
Pentagon officials say the two firms, Manas International Services Ltd. and
Aalam Services Ltd., were used not because of their high-level connections but
because they were the only ones with facilities that could be used to transport
and store fuel at the airport in Bishkek, the capital. Even though the Akayevs
may have benefited, Defence Department rules do not bar companies with ties to a
foreign leader from such contracts, the officials said.
The fuel deal, however, has created a political problem for the Bush
administration, which is seeking to complete an agreement with Kyrgyzstan's new
leaders for long-term access to the air base.
The country's current president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was elected in the
summer after Akayev fled a popular uprising in the spring, is insisting that
Washington make retroactive lease payments and help recover the fuel contract
money that he contends should have gone into Kyrgyz government coffers.
Kyrgyz officials argue that Washington knew where the fuel proceeds were going.
The Pentagon's handling of the fuel contract has become a liability at the very
time when the military needs the base more than ever.
Uzbekistan, where the United States also opened an air base to support
operations in Afghanistan, ordered its US base closed after the United States
joined calls for an international investigation of the Uzbek security forces'
violent suppression of antigovernment protests in May.
Loss of the Uzbek base has required the American military to shift more air
operations to Kyrgyzstan. But the talks between the new leaders and American
officials over use of the Bishkek base recently have grown tense.
"The US was paying inflated fuel prices to companies stolen by the family
of the former president," said Zamira Sydykova, Kyrgyzstan's ambassador in
Washington. "The US has said it would discuss these back payments,"
she added. "However, to date, the Pentagon has refused to honour these
Pentagon officials say the Kyrgyz demands amount to asking the United States to
pay twice for use of the base over the past four years. "Any possible
misappropriation of funds is an internal Kyrgyz matter," a Pentagon
spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said in a statement. All Department of Defence
contracts "for goods and services in Kyrgyzstan were negotiated in
accordance with US laws," he said.
An internal FBI report given to Kyrgyz prosecutors in September found that the
two businesses might be involved in money laundering through accounts at
Citibank in New York and the Dutch bank ABN AMRO. The companies also had
transactions with "a myriad of suspicious US shell companies"
associated with Akayev, his family and supporters, and with arms traffickers,
the report said. A copy of the document was given to The New York Times.
When a Pentagon team showed up for talks at the Bishkek base in early November,
they barred the Kyrgyzstan government's attorney, Edward Lieberman, a Washington
lawyer, from participating, Sydykova, the ambassador, and other Kyrgyz officials
said. The Americans said they were under orders not to deal anymore with the
Lieberman declined to comment, as did a spokesman for the US military's Central
Command. Kyrgyz officials, noting that they are under pressure from Russia and
other countries in the region to kick out the American military, say they could
still ask the Americans to leave if no help is forthcoming.
"We made an agreement between the governments of the United States and
Kyrgyzstan to find out about all the sales, all the affairs of Aalam Services
and Manas," said Miroslav Niyazov, head of Kyrgyzstan's national security
council. "There is a basis to believe there were serious embezzlements and
Balancing act between the US and Russia; the Russians not to be given a further
Kyrgyzstan still prefers to balance off the Americans and the Russians, rather
than give either preference. It has no plans to host a new Russian airbase in
Osh in addition to that existing in Kant outside Bishkek, Kyrgyz Foreign
Minister Dzhekshenkulov announced on November 17th in a speech from which we
have already quoted above.
"The issue of the deployment of a Russian air base in Osh is not under
discussion. First, we need to create a fully-fledged air base in Kant," he
told Interfax. Dzhekshenkulov was then in Moscow on a working visit. He met with
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The Russian base is a powerful factor in ensuring stability and security in
Central Asia, the Kyrgyz minister said.
As for the American base in Kyrgyzstan, the minister said "it is too early
to set any time constraints on the base's presence as the situation in
Afghanistan is hard to predict. Attacks by Islamic extremists have continued
after the presidential and parliamentary elections and the problems of al-Qaeda
and the Taliban have not yet been eliminated."
"The presence of an anti-terrorist coalition air base in Bishkek plays an
important role in the situation in Afghanistan. We support efforts made by the
anti-terrorist coalition to stabilize the military and political situation in
Afghanistan," Dzhekshenkulov said.
At the same time, he added that the technical and financial terms of the US
base's deployment were being revised.
Dzhekshenkulov also said Bishkek was counting on Russian participation in the
development of major Kyrgyz economic facilities.
"In the trade and economic sphere, we are not fully realising the potential
of sectors such as energy, mining and tourism. We believe our strategically
important industrial and economic facilities could be developed with Russian
participation," he said. Kyrgyzstan would like to attract major Russian
companies with sufficient industrial and financial potential to Kyrgyz
investment projects, Dzhekshenkulov said.
"We are interested in drawing Russian capital to the building of the
Kambarat hydroelectric power plants, the construction of an aluminium smelter in
Kyrgyzstan and other major projects," he said. Russian-Kyrgyz relations are
currently at a high level, the Kyrgyz minister said.
Russia is Kyrgyzstan's main foreign trade partner, he noted, and without doubt
is the giant neighbour (China is the other one), with whom Kyrgystan and its
politicians are most closely associated. Moscow regards Kyrgyzstan, along with
the other FSU central Asian states, as very much within the Russian 'sphere of
influence' and along with China, looks to eliminate the US military presence out
of these Central Asian states, as soon as there is no further military logic to
their presence relating to Afghanistan.
Bishkek hopes to sign debt-rescheduling accords in 2005
The Paris protocol compelled Kyrgyzstan to sign bilateral agreements with all
member countries of the Paris Club and Turkey before the end of September 2005,
New Europe reported recently.
But Economy and Finance Minister, Akylbek Zhaparov, said that Kyrgyzstan has
asked the Paris Club to extend the period for signing debt-rescheduling
agreements with member countries until December 31st, 2005.
On March 11th, 2005, the Paris Club agreed to write off some of the Kyrgyz state
debt and to reschedule payments of the remainder. US$124m drawn by Kyrgyzstan in
loans before August 31st, 2001, and debt rescheduled in 2002 were written off.
Kyrgyz debt to the Paris Club including the sum written off totalled US$555.1m.
The remaining debt of US$431m will be rescheduled. Payments on commercial loans
will be halved, and the result will be paid within 23 years, including a 7-year
grace period. Development assistance loans will be returned within 40 years,
including a 13-year grace period.