[A-List] The Grand Chessboard: Kyrgyzstan
Michael.Keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Mar 20 06:02:10 MST 2002
Readers will recognise the use of the title of a book published 4 years ago by Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter and more recently a consultant for Amoco, now, of course, part of the BP empire (how long before BP joins the list of "blue chips" asking Tony to relax foreign ownership rules?). While this article makes no mention of US interventions in this region, which have been extensively documented on this list, this is an interesting context in which US/Russia rivalry is playing out under the cloak of unity in the "war against terrorism".
Deadly Kyrgyz riots indicative of Eurasian tensions
By Sergei Blagov
Asia Times, March 21, 2002
MOSCOW - As an unprecedented opposition protest turned violent in the previously tranquil Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, possible destabilization there could indicate that Eurasian stability and integration are no more than a distant dream.
The controversy surfaced after legal action taken against a prominent local politician. The protesters were hoping to be present on Monday in the township of Toktogul for the sentencing of Azimbek Beknazarov, a Kyrgyz lawmaker who was arrested in January on charges of abuse of power. The police sealed off Toktogul and kept the protesters at bay.
In February 1995, Beknazarov, in his previous capacity of Toktogul prosecutor, dismissed criminal procedures on murder charges against Zhaparaly Kamchibekov and released him from detention. Then in December 2001, Kamchibekov was sentenced to eight years in jail for murder. Beknazarov's supporters claimed that his trial was rigged in an attempt to punish him for earlier criticism of the authorities. Beknazarov had previously lashed out at Kyrgyzstan's border treaties with China and Kazakhstan and alleged that Kyrgyz authorities recklessly ceded territory to the country's neighbors. His sentence was to be announced on Monday.
Unable to get to Toktogul, about 5,000 people had gathered in Kerben township, Ak-Syi district, Jalal-Abad province, in impoverished southern Kyrgyzstan. In the ensuing rioting on Sunday and Monday, five protesters were killed and 15 wounded, while 47 police were injured. A mob, with some protesters armed with hunting rifles, clashed with the police and attempted to storm the building of the Kerben administration, forcing the police to open fire with live ammunition, with the government claiming afterward that the country was in such dire economic straits it could not afford rubber bullets. In response, the mob burned down the homes of five local policemen.
Kyrgyz Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliyev said violence began when protesters threw stones, stormed the police headquarters and opened fire. Initially, Akmataliyev claimed that there were only 1,000 protesters. He said police had only fired shots into the air, not into the crowd. Akmataliyev claimed that there had been no orders to use live ammunition, adding that four-fifths of the protesters were people younger than 25. Opposition activists said riot police initiated the violence.
Protesters also called for the dismissal of the district administration and for an investigation into the causes of what they view as economic deprivation in Ak-Syi district. They also wanted to know who gave the police the order to open fire.
The government urged citizens to remain calm and not to be provoked by "individuals seeking destabilization". On Monday, President Askar Akayev addressed the nation on state television and urged the maintenance of stability. He warned against "the danger of political extremism and contempt for the law". Akayev stated that the events came as yet another step in "deliberate activities" by the opposition aimed at destroying peace and tranquility in Kyrgyzstan.
Initially, the authorities hinted that they did not rule out the introduction of martial law in Ak-Syi district, but eventually the government backed down. Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev met the protesters and told them that their conditions were fulfilled. On Tuesday, Beknazarov was released and district chief Shermamat Osmonov was fired, while a governmental commission was investigating the situation in Kerben.
However, Kyrgyzstan's Prosecutor General Chubak Abyishkayev claimed that the protests were not going to affect the court's ruling. On Tuesday, presidential spokesman Ilyas Bekbolotov claimed that Beknazarov was released temporarily while legal action against him was set to continue. "The sentence will be announced in days," Bekbolotov was quoted as saying by the Russian Information Agency (RIA).
On Tuesday, Beknazarov met with his supporters in Kerben and urged the protesters to go home. However, the protesters reportedly demanded the release of all the people detained on Sunday and Monday. However, the situation reportedly remained tense. There were rumors that 500 protesters, including 70 mounted and armed men, were moving to block Bishkek-Osh road in Tash-Kumyr township.
Needless to say, the opposition was keen to capitalize on the protests. After the riots, it demanded an investigation of the country's law-enforcement agencies. On Tuesday, Ishembai Kadyrbekov, head of the "Kyrgyzstan" parliamentary faction, told journalists in Bishkek that in 2001 nearly 3,000 criminal cases were dropped, hence indicating that thousands of people had been illegally detained.
Kyrgyz volatility arguably came as yet another grim reminder that post-Soviet integration faces countless challenges. Kyrgyzstan is a founding member of a number of post-Soviet groupings, notably the Eurasian Economic Commonwealth (EEC), which also includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. EEC officials have claimed that the grouping, which was created last June, is an open institution and other post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) members can join. The EEC's member-state presidents are due to meet at the first EEC summit in May.
Critics argue that the EEC's pledges of integration lack substance while its officials are busy with insignificant matters. For instance, the EEC is now holding a public contest to design the commonwealth's official insignia. A total of 178 drafts have been submitted so far with the winner due to receive a 60,000-ruble (US$2,000) award.
Because of its economic clout, Russia has more say in the Eurasian Commonwealth. Russia has a 40 percent vote in the EEC, Belarus and Kazakhstan have 20 percent each, and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were given 10 percent each. It's not surprising, therefore, that the Kremlin is trying to use the EEC as an instrument in "the great game" in Eurasia. For instance, on Monday Russian President Vladimir Putin described Ukraine's and Moldova's plans to cooperate with the EEC as a "responsible and important decision" and a "move in a right direction". Moreover, on Monday Moldova announced that it had formally applied to join the EEC.
Incidentally, Moldova's authorities are now themselves recuperating from nationalist opposition rallies against government plans to bring the country closer to Russia. Since early January, thousands of people have demonstrated in downtown Chisinau against government plans to make Russian an official language, along with Moldovan. Protesters called for the violent removal of the Moldovan government, yet the authorities pledged not to use violence to stop the protests.
Therefore, Kyrgyzstan could well become the EEC's latest "sick man", following Tajikistan, which is still recovering from its bloody civil war of early 1990s. And now Moldova - another potential hotbed of trouble - waits to join the grouping.
EEC officials argue that the grouping constitutes a self-sufficient region with some 200 million people, abundant energy, agricultural resources and industrial potential. However, it is understood that Eurasian integration has been hampered by differences in the member states' economic models, as well as domestic volatility in some countries.
Full article at:
Mercuria Business School
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
More information about the A-List