Wednesday, 22 May 2002

KYRGYZ TURMOIL OVER A BORDER AGREEMENT

Published in Analytical Articles

By Anara Tabyshalieva (5/22/2002 issue of the CACI Analyst)

BACKGROUND: Defending the border agreement with China, President Askar Akayev stated that the border agreement is the best solution for a small country, a skillful piece of Kyrgyz diplomacy giving away just 30 percent of the originally contested area. Talking about a good relationship with China, government officials remind that China intended to acquire more lands, presenting its own maps and planning to give Kyrgyzstan only four percent of the disputed areas, while Kyrgyz officials argued that the old Soviet state borders should be the new borders of independent Kyrgyzstan. Since 1964 the Soviet-Chinese border problem, which then became a Kyrgyz-Chinese one, could not be resolved.
BACKGROUND: Defending the border agreement with China, President Askar Akayev stated that the border agreement is the best solution for a small country, a skillful piece of Kyrgyz diplomacy giving away just 30 percent of the originally contested area. Talking about a good relationship with China, government officials remind that China intended to acquire more lands, presenting its own maps and planning to give Kyrgyzstan only four percent of the disputed areas, while Kyrgyz officials argued that the old Soviet state borders should be the new borders of independent Kyrgyzstan. Since 1964 the Soviet-Chinese border problem, which then became a Kyrgyz-Chinese one, could not be resolved. Now, the Kyrgyz President insisted that parliament ratify the agreement before his trip to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in St. Petersburg in June. The first agreement was ratified by the previous parliament in 1998 and the current parliament ratified the second one on May 10, 2002. The opposition announced that both ratification actions were done with violation of procedures, in a hurry, without appropriate consideration in the parliamentary committees. Some MPs accuse the President of signing the agreements without consulting with Parliament, violating the constitution, according to which only Parliament has the right to change state borders. Opponents also argue that the Kyrgyz government did not present the parliament with any documents containing Chinese demands to Kyrgyz lands or any maps of the disputed regions; moreover, it is argued that due to a lack of patriotism and experience on the part of the Kyrgyz leadership, imprecise borders were admitted as disputable.

IMPLICATIONS: Paradoxically, protests started in a backyard of Kyrgyzstan - Ak Suu (also known as Aksy), a remote province of the Jalal-Abad region bordering with Uzbekistan. Azimbek Beknazarov, a parliamentarian severely criticizing the territorial concessions and demanding the impeachment of President Askar Akaev, had been arrested and detained in January this year. His local constituency and human rights activists held protest pickets and hunger strikes since his arrest. The refusal of the Jalalabad and of local officials to negotiate with demonstrators seriously complicated the situation. As a result, six people were killed and 29 were wounded on 17-18 March in clashes between policemen and picketers. To stop the bloodshed, the authorities released Beknazarov, dismissed the Jalalabad governor and some regional officials. The reluctance of central and local government officials to address the long-lasting public complaints led to a spread of pickets throughout the country, including the capital and parts of the Osh region. The inexperience and lack of professionalism of some officials, their reliance on Soviet-style methods to silence opponents, and deeper socio-economic issues bring together various groups of discontented people across the country. Currently, thousands of protesters have blocked the Bishkek-Osh road, the main highway between the northern and southern parts of Kyrgyzstan, in the southern Jalalabad region. Currently, protesters demand the annulations of the agreements on the Sino-Kyrgyz border, the resignation of President Akayev, an unbiased investigation of the bloodshed in Ak Suu, the closure of the criminal case against Deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, and the release of opposition leader Feliks Kulov. One-sided reports on the situation in Jalalabad by the National Radio and TV Corporation and the difficult socio-economic conditions were mentioned among other reasons of mass discontent. Some activists add the need to lower fees for electricity. The appeals of demonstrators look spontaneous and inconsistent, with a modest emphasis of people\'s real needs and priorities. The most radical opposition leaders suggest the impeachment of Akayev, but fail to propose any program or nation-wide agenda for further development. Many opponents recommend the President only to dismiss several top officials, including the head of the Presidential Administration, the State Secretary and the Prime Minister, with a subsequent dismissal of the entire Kyrgyz government. Comparing with the rubber-stamped parliaments in neighboring post-Soviet Central Asian states, the Kyrgyz parliament has become a home for the opposition. However, the majority of the more than 30 political parties registered in Kyrgyzstan are little known in all regions, or are based either in the north or in the south of the country; none of them have managed to unite the opposition. Recently, however, four opposition parties - the Ar-Namys (Dignity), Ata Meken (Fatherland), Erkindik (Freedom) and People\'s Party have united to form one block, the People\'s Congress, to build up a nation-wide agenda.

CONCLUSION: The tensions that started with a disagreement on border issues is being fueled by mass discontent in the economic and social spheres, and has combined with an existing power struggle in Kyrgyzstan. The risks are great that demonstrators, frustrated by low living standards, unemployment, and rampant mismanagement and corruption, could be pushed to impulsive actions unless some peaceful way of fostering a dialogue between the government and various popular movements and opposition groups is not reached. In the capital Bishkek, thanks to several years of experience, the government and its opposition already know how to negotiate, how to build confidence, and how to discuss sensitive issues in public roundtables or individual meetings. This good practice should not be forgotten now and could be extrapolated in the country, including its remote provinces. A participatory strategy is especially important for disadvantaged regions of Kyrgyzstan far from administrative centers, such as Ak Suu or Kurshab. Rural people need to be informed in time about political and economic processes by unbiased sources, to be involved in dialogue with their local administration, and to be heard before they join mass demonstrations.

AUTHOR BIO: Dr. Anara Tabyshalieva is a visiting scholar at Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, SAIS, Johns Hopkins University.

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

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