A photo taken by a Minsk-based democracy activist, Mikhail Pashkevich, has sent relations between the former-Soviet republics of Belarus and Kyrgyzstan into a nosedive.
The snap, which was posted on the Facebook profile of the group “Говори Правду“, or “Tell The Truth”, has so far managed to spark an extradition request, the withdrawal of an ambassador and the storming of a diplomatic embassy. Mikhail additionally claims to have received a napkin with a threatening message from the photo's subject, Janysh Bakiyev.
A series of pictures of a person resembling Janysh Bakiyev, detested brother of ex-Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek, surfaced on Pashkevich's personal Facebook profile and the public profile of Tell the Truth on August 17. After online discussions filtered through to the mainstream media, Kyrgyzstan demanded [ru] the extradition of all Bakiyevs on Belarussian territory.
Such attempts had been made before and ignored, but faced with a public inflamed by the sight of Janysh ambling around the streets of Belarus’ capital, where his brother has long been thought to be taking refuge, Bishkek decided to take a stand, withdrawing [ru] its ambassador to Belarus on August 24, when the latter failed to respond to the request. On August 28, around 20 protesters stormed the Belarussian embassy in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, in order to force a response from the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko.
So why are Janysh and his brother such wanted men? According to Eurasianet.org's Inside the Cocoon blog:
If Kyrgyz prosecutors are to be believed, there is good reason to demand Janysh’s extradition. Stories about him read like something out of Mario Puzo's The Godfather. For example, besides being a main suspect in the murder of Kurmanbek’s one-time chief of staff, Medet Sadyrkulov, Janysh is accused of sending a cautionary message to Sadyrkulov in the form of a severed nose and ear. Testifying in court on August 10, one of Janysh’s former bodyguards claimed that his then boss had threatened to “rip his head off” if he ever told anyone of his connection to Sadyrkulov’s demise.
Moreover, the blog adds, as the ex-head of the security forces, Janysh is personally thought to have ordered the presidential guard to open fire on protesters during the April 7 revolution that overthrew the Bakiyev family in 2010. Over 80 people died in clashes between people and state.
According to Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Internal Affairs, the men Janysh Bakiyev was pictured with are no random acquaintances either. They say Bakiyev is accompanied by two former employees [ru] Rustam Saiduev and Tahir Rysaliev, also wanted in connection with Sadyrkulov's murder.
The publication of the pictures led to immediate reactions among netizens in Kyrgyzstan. Asan comments [ru]:
Нашим чиновникам не выгодно арестовывать ни Бакивых, ни Акаевых! Представьте себе, что они приехали и дают показания!!! Пол Кыргыхстана надо будет расстрелять, а другую пересажать… Кто ж на это пойдет?
And Mirsuljan Namazaliev tweeted [ru]:
Герой недели – Миша Пашкевич! Инструмент героя – Facebook! Антигерой недели – Жаныш Бакиев. Инструмент антигероя – минивены и салфетка…
“Minivans and a napkin” refers to Mikhail Pashkevich's own claim that having uploaded the photos on Facebook, he received a napkin which read: “Mikhail, hello from Mr. Bakiyev.” Pashkevich says that the note [ru] was passed to him via a waiter in one of the restaurants in Minsk. He subsequently uploaded a photo of the napkin:
On the public group “Tell the Truth”, Facebook users were divided. Some showed genuine concern for his safety, others were confident that the napkin was a cruel joke, while another camp thought the note was the activist's own invention. Dzmitry Tectus Stepanec comments [ru] that the hand writing appeared unnatural:
Сравнить все букавки, ну ладно)
Человек, преднамерено хотел изменить почерк, наклон изменился с каждой строчкой, Заглавные буквы, всегда писались прописью, а сейчас четежным шрифтом, нажим на частях букв ( заглавных) ясно виден). Буквы “а”
не соответствуют друг-дружке в слове Вам и Бакиева, попытка соответствовать одна одной – лажа ( нажим разный), поправление
Мое мнение, мое – самопал!
Kiyalbek Kyrgyz is [ru] of a similar opinion:
Миша не притворяйся а? Бакиев плевать хотел на твои фотки
Still, the majority of the commenters shared the opinion that Bakiyev was sending a threatening message to the activist and that he had reason to be afraid.
Taciana Reviaka exclaimed [ru]:
я бы, Миша, на твоем месте ноги уносила, и желательно не в одиночку.
News editor Eldiyar Arykbaev assessed [ru]:
Вот и началась возможная слежка за Misha Pashkevich, который сфотографировал Жаныша Бакиева в Минске. Надеюсь не дойдет до того, что ему будет присылать отрезанные части тела на Новый год, как это было с Садыркуловым.
Michail Pashkevich himself strongly believes that the note was genuine. In his interview with Kloop.kg, the activist stated [ru]:
Это вообще было случайно выбранное кафе, куда спонтанно приехали на машине. И записку нам передали уже через пару минут как мы сели. Это значит что ехали за нами по всему маршруту по городу
Whatever the truth, the Pashkevich-Janysh sub-plot has gripped netizens, who are eagerly awaiting another installment on Facebook. As cocerns the bigger picture, Bishkek's diplomatic relations with Minsk are under a heavy strain. While Belarus has belatedly agreed to respond to Kyrgyzstan's latest extradition request, Kyrgyz protesters took matters into their own hands [ru], wreaking havoc in the Belarussian embassy on August 28, reportedly breaking windows and furniture.
The general reaction to the attack on the embassy has been one of shock. Kloop.kg reader Ruslan Shylov summed up [ru] the current situation succinctly when he said:
Это не хорошо…