Report From Kyrgyztan

The following piece was forwarded to me by my friend Charles, currently living in Kazakhstan. My only comment is that the holiday of Nevruz which he refers to was this past Monday (March 21), and I was in Almaty, Kazakhstan visiting Charles on that day last year. It was clearly the most important festival of the year, with much of the city, and even thousands of visitors from provincial areas gathering in the city square and celebrating long into the night. Try to imagine how a mass cultural patriotic holiday like this transitioned into the street revolution that you have been reading about in the news.
For links to continuing coverage, see the Registan blog.

According to the Kyrgyz Republic’s long-lived president Askar Akaev, the recent parliamentary elections passed in “genuinely democratic, transparent and honest” atmoshpere and symbolized a “major success and celebration of democracy”, thus proving that “democracy extended deep roots in the fertile Kyrgyz soil”. Were this idyllic and impeccable depiction true, the Kyrgyz people wouldn’t come onto the streets and rally in front of state buildings to protest the current regime’s scandalous attempt to forge the elections.

As an indignant reader of “Moya Stolitsa Novosti” (MSN) wrote in her letter, the scale of bribing and cheat during the 13 March runoffs was appalling. In the University polling district of Bishkek, where President’s daughter, Bermet Akaeva, ran for seat after the first round of the elections on 27 February, she witnessed as school masters, apparently threatened to be sacked if they didn’t collaborate, brought their employees and relatives from all over the city to the polling station. They concealed photos in their passports with pieces of paper as a sign for election committee’s members, who calmly produced voters’ lists, letting the ardent “constituents” put signatures against bogus names, and dispensed the bulletins, which subsequently went into voting boxes in Bermet Akaeva’s favour. What is even more scandalous, on exit they received from 150 to 300 soms (41 soms equals 1 $) after entering their signatures in a sheet.

Even after the elections were over and all the Kyrgyz people were supposed to unite in celebration of the “deep-rooted” democracy and greet the new parliament members, “honestly” elected by their votes, the extent of the ruling regime’s interventions into the political life was so blatant that sometimes it was ridiculous to witness. On 18 March the US ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic Mr. Stephen Young gave a press conference in the “Akipress” news agency and assessed the past elections. Starting to his presentation, he said that he was prepared to everything and showed a pocket lantern to the surprised reporters, hinting the embarrassing development that took place the previous day. Electricity was cut suddenly and the lights went off completely when ENEMO’s (European Network of Elections Monitoring Organizations) international observers gathered in the same building to introduce their report on the elections.

A month earlier, something similar happened to the Freedom House printing press, the only independent printing house in the country. On February 22 the electrical power was cut off, allegedly due to staff’s violation of safety requirements. By providing professional printing services to over sixty local and regional newspapers, it had been irritating the government since its opening last year. Seemingly, the MSN’s allegations against Akaev and his family served as the last drop, as he accused the newspaper and the Kyrgyz media in general of “systematic information terror” and has declared his intention to file a criminal libel suit against the MSN newspaper, which is also printed by the independent press. The remarkable and eloquent thing about the development is that electrical power was cut off just 4 days before the national parliament elections. The incident was widely accused by local and international media and NGOs. The Freedom House itself, the international freedom and human rights watch-dog based in US, voiced its concern over the development and named it as an “act of censorship” and an “attack not only on a legitimate business operation, but also on democracy”.

Beginning this article yesterday, I did not suspect I would be writing these final lines in an office in Istanbul while my Kyrgyz compatriots are writing history on the streets of Bishkek. Emotions are overflowing me at this great moment. Occasionally it becomes hard to check tears of happiness, passion and hope as I feverishly press the refresh button of my browser to track the pages of websites updating news from Ala-Too square, the main square in Bishkek, practically in the real time mode. These emotions are: happiness to see my people united in the critical time of change, passion at the sight of my brothers and sisters’ blood shed for the sake of this change, and hope for the brighter future for my country. The timing of the uprising, coming right after the ancient holiday of Nevruz, is highly symbolic, too. It has been widely celebrated by all peoples of Central Asia and has symbolized the New Year and change for both nomadic and settled tribes of the region for thousands of years.

The last developments in Kyrgyzstan openly manifest that the elections have been the last drop for the long-suffered Kyrgyzstanis. The Kyrgyz people have been traditionally viewed as the most tranquil and peaceful nation in the Central Asia, not disposed to change the current developments and force out the ruling regime, more so. Yet, however radical and unexpected Akaev’s ouster may seem, it stands in line with the velvet revolutions in the former Soviet Union, and in greater scale, conforms to the flow of history: discontented nations sooner or later overthrow their repressive authorities. Whatever the circumstances behind the latest events in Kyrgyzstan may be, now that Kyrgyz people persisted and managed to express their will, they may be proud to be named as the most democratic in the Central Asia.

So, dear brothers and sisters, accept my genuine congratulations on emergence of a new democracy! Regarding the questions Max raised here, I am positive they won’t take 15 years for the new authorities to answer!