Books on Kyrgyzstan
Update No: 300 - (01/01/06)
The aftermath of revolution
The Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan in March last year was a formidable event. It
seemed to bear out the prophecy of Francis Fukuyama that liberal-democracy,
coupled with capitalism, is the only way forward. A crude democracy of a
clannish sort was brought to Central Asia by force of arms in Afghanistan in
2002. Last year it became the turn of people power in Kyrgyzstan.
But it has certainly not brought 'The End of History,' the title of Fukuyama's
tome, as far as Kyrgystan is concerned. Quite the contrary. 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.
North-South divide again
It is a curiosity of human history that northerners always feel superior to
southerners, even when the latter clearly inhabit a more clement clime. A main
concern now is that political tension in Bishkek could deepen the divide
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
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 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
Son of President builds a pyramid
Another truism of human affairs is that once in power people are always inclined
to feather their nest and put their family and pals in place. Nowhere is this
more true than in Central Asia.
There has been nothing more important of late in Kyrgyzstan than control of the
media. In response to the arbitrary practice and silence of the authorities, the
staff of independent Pyramid TV Co., Kyrgyzstan went on an unlimited strike in
mid-December, saying the younger son of Kyrgyz president, Maxim Bakiyev, had
attempted to seize their channel. Kyrgyz President, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, ordered a
probe into the facts of the case, a palliative, but not necessarily a cure.
Around four hundred Bishkek residents signed to back up Pyramid TV Channel,
whose staff stepped in to oppose the 50 per cent buyout of the company and
arbitrary practices of the new owners. More than a hundred TV employees and
their supporters gathered in front of the Kyrgyz Parliament calling for a court
settlement for the conflict. Twenty reporters stuck adhesive tape over the
mouths and were holding posters reading "They will come for you
tomorrow!" and "Let's defend the right to tell the truth!"
Such bold moves by reporters were provoked by the so-called representatives of
the new owners, willing to grab control over TV/radio programmes. Prompted by
them, the police occupied the premises of the TV Channel at night from Friday to
Saturday, endeavouring to make reporters vacate the building. Parliament deputy,
Kabay Karabekov, and rights advocate, Tursunbek Akunov, stepped in to prevent
"In 2004, we [Pyramid] transferred the 50 per cent of stocks for US$100,000
to Areopag Co. with the right for back purchase during three years," said
Oleg Vassil, vice president of the company. "We may buy them back before
the term expires and are ready to do it now." Areopag sold the stocks
without notifying other owners, Vassil said.
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. 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.
Legislating 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 hopes that the country's media would gain independence from
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 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 administration loyalists, touched off 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
media empire. 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 nor Bakiyev".
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 imagined.
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 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 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'
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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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
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 News Agency. 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 that "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 U.S.
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 realizing 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.
Kyrgyzstan exported 2.4bn kw/hours of electricity
The export of electric power went up and has this year made 2.4 billion kw/hours.
This trend began in August due to negotiations on signing of quadripartite
Intergovernmental protocols, press service of JSC "Electriheskie Stantsii,"
stated, New Europe reported.
The largest importer of Kyrgyz electricity in the current year became Kazakstan
- 1.43 billion kw/h. Also, cooperation with Kazakstan has allowed the conclusion
of the contracts about fuel supply of heating stations in Kyrgyzstan, and also
to transit electricity in Russia.
Tajikistan bought 95 million kw/h and acted as a stable consumer of Kyrgyz
electricity in spring and autumn. Around one million kw/h was exported to Xuad,
China. Tariffs for the electricity exported in China make three cents for 1 kw/h.
However, currently there is no physical opportunity to increase supply there
because the increase of exports is connected to the large investments on
construction of new passage capacities. The expansion of the export of electric
power in China is a prospective goal for the company and 882 million kw/h have
been exported to Russia since August.
Kyrgyz president wants private power networks
Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, has called for the granting of concessions
to enable the passing of power distribution networks to the private sector as
soon as possible. "To establish stability in the energy sector,
distribution companies should be passed to the private sector," Bakiyev
said at a recent government session, Interfax News Agency reported.
"An increase in prices will not increase the collection of payments. They
would simply be stolen, just as before. It is necessary to pass the companies
over to the private sector, which will not tolerate theft," he said.
"I will insist that we grant concessions, using the Severelectro
joint-stock company as an experiment," Bakiyev said. "There is a need
to appeal to investors who are willing not only to invest money in the Kyrgyz
energy sector, but who are also willing to bring order to it," he said.
Russia's MTS may get control of Bitel
Russian mobile market leader Mobile TeleSystems (MTS) may secure control over
Kyrgyzstan's largest cellco, Bitel, by the end of the year, according to sources
close to the deal, Vedomosti business daily recently reported.
The sources have not revealed the stake size MTS seeks to buy or the price it
will pay. MTS' President Vasily Sidorov said that information that the deal may
be closed soon is "incorrect," but confirmed that MTS is interested in
Bitel. If its bid for Bitel falls through, MTS has its eye on other cell
companies in CIS countries. Sidorov said that MTS is interested in entering the
markets in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakstan, Moldova and Tajikistan.
According to analysts, the value of Bitel is estimated at 150 million Euro to
200 million Euro. However, MTS may buy a stake in Bitel with a discount as the
company's ownership has been challenged in court several times this year,
Vedomosti said, citing sources.