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Kyrgyzstan: The “Archived” Revolution

Categories: Central Asia & Caucasus, Kyrgyzstan, Breaking News, Disaster, Politics, Protest, War & Conflict, RuNet Echo

On April 6th, Kyrgyzstan a mountainous country in Central Asia, was hit by mass protests [1] [ENG] which eventually led to the overthrow of the government. Regional administrators were seized by protesters, and the army and police switched sides to the opposition, leaving President Kurmanbek Bakiev [2] with almost no support.

The riots have not been bloodless – the recent unrest has so far left almost 74 people dead and more than 500 wounded – unlike a previous peaceful “Tulip revolution” [3] [ENG] in 2005. The two uprisings are not dissimilar. Only five years ago, it was Bakiev who came to the Ala-Too square [4] in the center of Kyrgyz capital demanding the resignation of former president Askar Akayev [5]. Now, it is Bakiev himself who has had to flee the capital amidst roaring crowds led by opposition leader Roza Otunbaeva [6].

Kyrgyzstan cultural-political divisions, map source: Wikimedia [7]

Kyrgyzstan cultural-political divisions, map source: Wikimedia

The roots of the present revolution are various: South vs. North clash (Bakiev is from the South, the rebels are from the North), corruption and suppressive government (in recent years Kyrgyz people witnessed all forms of oppression from closings of the newspapers [8] [ENG] to independent journalists’ murders [9] [EN], Russia's Great Game interest [10], Ortega-y-Gasset'ian “revolt of the masses [11]“, etc. Whatever the real reasons of the Kyrgyz revolution of 2010 are, it is important to note that it was overwhelmingly immediate, furious, bloody and… well-documented.

The role of the new media changed slightly this time compared to other dramatic events (like the protests in Moldova or Iran). Blogs and Twitter didn't serve as serious means of public mobilization since the Internet penetration rate is relatively small in Kyrgyzstan ( just 15 percent in 2009). However, new media were agile enough to cover all the main events giving detailed footage of initial protests in Talas, rampage in Bishkek and looting that followed. At the same time, new media were efficiently used by the opposition attracting the attention of international community and shifting public opinion to the side of the protesters. The opposition leader Roza Otunbaeva [6] (@otunbaeva [12]), for instance, registered her account as soon as she became the head of the provisional government. On the other day, son of president Bakiev, Maxim opened a LiveJournal account [13] to express the pro-government point of view.

As Gregory Asmolov concluded [14] [RUS], it was not “journalists 2.0″ who were the most efficient in covering Kyrgyz events but the “editors 2.0″. Bloggers who both knew the region and were outside the country to see the big picture and collected the photographs, videos and Twitter confessions. Two most informed bloggers in this situation were people outside the country: US-based Yelena Skochilo (a.k.a. LJ user morrire [15]) and Kazakhstan-based Vyacheslav Firsov (a.k.a. lord_fame [16]). They managed to assemble the most complete collections of photos, videos and timelines.

Another “winners” in the coverage are the local blog-portals namba.kz [17], kloop.kg [18], issyk-kulpress.kg [19] (as well as traditional news sites like internews.kg [20], neweurasia.net [21] and 24.kg [22]), forum diesel.elcat.kg [23] and a wordless webcam showing Ala-Too square [24] (its screenshots were captured and transmitted by many bloggers). Twitter hashtags #freekg [25] (the major hashtag of the event), #bishkek [26], #kyrgyzstan [27] and #talas [28], although filled with re-tweets and various provocations, made it possible for English-speaking audience to follow the events as well.

Despite nation-wide problems with the Internet on April 6 and 7 (the government forces blocked several popular websites “Azattyk” (RFERL), 24.kg, ferghana.ru, LJ user sabinareingold reported [29]), the Kyrgyz revolution came out to be very well-documented. Registan.net, [30] comparing the events with Andijan massacre [31], wrote:

The information coming out of Kyrgyzstan is not always reliable. It is often biased, short-sighted, confusing and contradictory. But it is giving us a view of Kyrgyzstan that demands our attention — not only now, but in the months and years to come, when we look back on these events and try to piece together what happened

Since the information was so vast, so there was a systematized list of events and materials gathered and published by the bloggers.

April 6th, Talas
The revolution began on April 6 in Talas , north-western Kyrgyzstan, where the local people stormed the local administration. The same happened in Naryn a couple of hours earlier. On the next day, almost all regional capitals except Bishkek in the North of Kyrgyzstan were controlled by the opposition.

April 7th, Bishkek rampage
The most important events happened on April 7 in Bishkek. The opposition meeting turned to an open conflict. When protesters (who somehow acquired arms) started to storm the Presidential palace after defeating police forces, the presidential guards started firing at them in an attempt to stop the attackers. Witnesses said several snipers killed at least 20 people (others were killed by grenades and open fire).

Video of the storm:

Another video:

The police was unable to stop the protesters and left the building. President Bakiev left for the unknown location on his plane. On April 8, there was information that he landed in Osh (south of the country), and moved to his native village near Jalalabad [41]. He refused to abdicate. The Osh region is among those that aren't controlled by the opposition so far. It is still unclear what will happen to Bakiev.

April 8, Revolution aftermath

After the opposition forces won Bishkek, they confronted another serious danger: the looters. Various bloggers reported omni-presence of looters (sometimes armed). In the evening, the looters were stopped by newly established police and volunteer brigades with white bandage on their hands. The last messages from the blogs said that the situation in Bishkek stabilized.