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Wednesday, 11 September 2002

CLAN POLITICS AT THE BASE OF KYRGYZSTAN'S POLITICAL CRISIS

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By Alisher Khamidov (9/11/2002 issue of the CACI Analyst)

BACKGROUND: Several deputies of the Kyrgyz parliament, with civil society and human rights activists, on 14 August initiated a new movement called "For the Resignation of Askar Akayev and Reforms for the People" in Bishkek. Among its initiators are prominent public figures Azimbek Beknazarov, Adahan Madumarov, president of  the Human Rights Institute Topchubek Turgunaliev, Chairman of the Kyrgyz  Committee for Human Rights Ramazan Dyryldaev. The group has designated Ismail Isakov, a former Kyrgyz general, as its chairman and set a goal of preparing measures to end the current crisis and a program of reforms in Kyrgyzstan by September.

BACKGROUND: Several deputies of the Kyrgyz parliament, with civil society and human rights activists, on 14 August initiated a new movement called "For the Resignation of Askar Akayev and Reforms for the People" in Bishkek. Among its initiators are prominent public figures Azimbek Beknazarov, Adahan Madumarov, president of  the Human Rights Institute Topchubek Turgunaliev, Chairman of the Kyrgyz  Committee for Human Rights Ramazan Dyryldaev. The group has designated Ismail Isakov, a former Kyrgyz general, as its chairman and set a goal of preparing measures to end the current crisis and a program of reforms in Kyrgyzstan by September. However, the ultimate goal of the movement is to garner popular support for the resignation of president Askar Akaev, according to local media reports. The authorities, represented by First Vice Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov, have responded by denouncing the movement, calling its objectives "unlawful" and "unconstitutional." Some government officials have suggested that the members of the movement be punished according to Kyrgyz law. The authorities have also launched a counter-campaign, using controlled media outlets to discredit the movement and its members. Several public demonstrations in support of Askar Akaev and protesting the newly founded movement were staged in major cities in Kyrgyzstan in later August. Meanwhile, some public figures including Muslim activists and communist party members have issued protests against the presence of foreign troops in the country. In a high profile case, Tursunbai Bakir uulu, a Kyrgyz MP and leader of the Erk (Free Kyrgyzstan) party, have chastised the international base, saying that the U.S. government's plans to undertake military campaign against Iraq have raised concern among his voters. The authorities are dismissive of such allegations while pointing out the economic and security benefits of the base. Prime Minister Joomart Otorbaev told a press-conference in Bishkek on 19 July that the foreign troops based at the Manas airport near Bishkek have spent $34 million since 16 December. Otorbaev told journalists that besides economic benefits, the western military presence helps Kyrgyzstan in strengthening its security and fight against drug trafficking, according to RFE/RL report. The International base "Gancy" at Manas national airport is home to more than 1,800 soldiers. Some outspoken parliament members such As Tursunbai Baakir Uulu, Adaham Madumarov and Satyvaldy Chyrmashev have complained that base construction and service jobs do not offer many benefits to average Kyrgyz. Madumarov implied that a company called Aalam Service, which maintains links to president's inner circle, gets a lopsided share of payments. Bakir Uulu told reporters, " U.S. representatives talk of multi-million dollar sums allegedly received by Kyrgyzstan as a result of their military presence. In reality, people know that these enormous resources end up in the pockets of those close to the country's top leaders: the two or three companies with permission to provide various services to the foreigners," according to IWPR report on August 20. In his July interview with the Financial Times reporter David Stern, President Akaev admitted that his ethnic Kazakh son-in-law Adil Toigonbaev's company is among other businesses that have oil supply contracts with the U.S. base. By 2002, Kyrgyzstan's foreign debt has reached approximately US$1.6 billion. According to the Ministry of Finance, Kyrgyzstan received $950 million since 1991 in technical help from abroad. Main donors of the country are the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), The program of Technical Assistance to CIS (TACIS) of the European Union, as well as similar agencies

IMPLICATIONS: Askar Akayev met in Bishkek on 9 August with opposition politicians Emil Aliev, Melis Eshimkanov, Adaham Madumarov, and Omurbek Tekebaev and agreed that constitutional reforms were needed to take the country out of the present situation. Despite the agreement to form a constitutional council in August to discuss details of the reforms and to give representation to the political forces, local analysts are skeptical about the results. Unless Akaev abandons the family-feudal system and ensures the adequate redistribution of political and economic power among key and influential political elites especially from the South, further public protests and demonstrations are likely to follow, according to experts. Some hard-line opposition leaders, who are in loggerheads with more moderate ones, are already preparing a March to Bishkek in September to demand the resignation of President Askar Akaev and other officials who are believed to have personal responsibility for the Aksy bloodshed in March.

It is apparent that the base issue has been caught up in the broader political rivalry between Akaev and his opponents from rivaling clans in the South. Tursunbai Bakir Uulu and Klara Ajibekova, one of the Communist Party leaders, recently announced that they would ask the Bush administration to voluntarily leave Kyrgyz territory. Bakir Uulu threatened that if the U.S. refused, his supporters will organize a protest march to Manas national airport.

CONCLUSION: Observers link the recent tensions in the Aksy region and the subsequent public protests in the South with ongoing rivalry between political elites. Some political clans with their power bases in the South have grown increasingly discontent about the monopolization of politics and consolidation of economic power in the hands of a handful people who maintain close links with the president's family. According to local observers, western aid stays in capital Bishkek while mainly agrarian regions of South continue to suffer from growing poverty and unemployment.  Hopes of southerners that a new government which formed in June 2002 would guarantee representation to southern elites have been premature. Akaev selected people for the cabinet on the basis of personal loyalty rather than on professional merits or power distribution between political elites.

Copyright 2001 The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst. All rights reserved.

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