Who would be Rosa Otunbayeva right now? Two months after effectively losing control of Kyrgyzstan’s south, Central Asia’s first female president faced further upheaval as Balykchi-born entrepreneur Urmat Baryktabsov announced his intentions to march on the national capital and “discuss a strategy for development in the country”.
The demonstration took two decidedly different forms. Just under a thousand people, Bishkek residents as well as sojourners from Barykatabasov’s native Issyk Kul region, made it through to the capital’s old square where they sat around aimlessly, drinking tea brewed specially for the occasion or enjoying a picnic with their families.
The other half of their movement, meanwhile, were prevented from advancing on Bishkek by a police cordon at Kirgshelk, a village equidistant from the metropolis and Balykchi – a standoff that resulted in a pitch battle between law enforcement officers and demonstrators as well as Baryktabasov’s own arrest. He is accused of publicly calling for violent change in the government, organization of mass disturbances and illegal possession and distribution of weapons.
The entrepreneur’s own exact aims were unknown. One outlet suggested he had organized the show of strength in order to get charges against him dropped and secure a position in the interim government. His prior record of public mobilization – an attempt to seize the White House after the Tulip Revolution in 2005, suggested that the preventative action taken by the interim government was justified. But the event raises a more pressing and relevant question: who or what will be next to try and disrupt order in this fractured Central Asian state?
Will it be Nurlan Motuev of Naryn province, clandestine coal baron turned Muslim leader? He has remained quiet since the events of April 7, yet shares the same capacity for spontaneous combustion as Baryktabasov and other political marginals who seek to use regional support bases as an entrance into public life at national level. If not though, perhaps Nariman Tyuleev, the popular former Mayor of Bishkek, who has already had demonstrations in the capital held [ru] on his behalf?
Whilst a Kloop poll showed Baryktabasov had limited general support for his actions, many that backed him did so because, ironically, he had never been involved in politics before. Such is the entrenched disillusionment with politicians in Kyrgyzstan that some wish to see a man with no experience in government rise to the highest ranks of public office.
In the South, the situation has far from stabilized. The evidence pointing to an almost total lack of interim government control there, whilst local leaders manipulate the state apparatus to carve out local fiefdoms in and around the regions two biggest cities.
This month's blog of the week [ru] highlights the alarming effect that residual ethnic tensions are having on justice and due process in the Barzakorgon region of Jalal-Abad. Nurbek Toktukunov, an ethnic Kyrgyz lawyer, describes the difficulties he has faced in defending an Uzbek client accused of murder during the June events. The account demonstrates instances of major neglect by Law Enforcement Officials, who Toktukunov believes “have fallen under the control of aggressive local leaders.”
Cautiously surveying the chaos in his city from the comfort of his plush office, is Osh mayor Melis Myrzakmatov. He has declared his opposition to any international investigation into the events which left the city in rubble in mid-June. In their blog, Bishkek-based English language publication the Spektator considers his purported culpability in the June events themselves:
“His desire to remove the city centre’s largest Uzbek neighbourhood and build his own hotel there was known before the riots began, as was his wish to relocate the bazaar – which along with Osh’s main mosque constitutes the heart of the city’s social activity – to the outskirts of town. For the homeless Uzbek victims of the violence he allegedly helped inflict, he threatens high rise flats or arbitrary jail sentences.”
Whatever or whoever was the cause of the conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan, all political discourse in the former-Soviet state now takes place in its shadow. Analysts have noted much of the Kyrgyz language media’s tendency towards ultra-nationalistic rhetoric. Murzaki reports that the manifestos distributed at Baryktabasov’s demonstration (Bishkek chapter) were chocked full of lowest common-denominator populism ‘glorifying Kyrgyz people and promising good life without any concrete goals’.
It is growing increasingly clear that nationalism, in its various shades, is the main platform on which October’s parliamentary elections will be soon be fought.