Tempers Flare at Kyrgyzstan's Favorite Lake

Tensions on the shores of Kyrgyzstan's flagship holiday destination, Lake Issyk-Kul, are eating away at one of the republic's main income streams – tourism.

While Lake Issyk-Kul is undoubtedly a national treasure, it holds a special significance for residents of Issyk-Kul region, the administrative division that surrounds the lake, representing both a source of heritage and income during tourist season. This season, on August 7, about one hundred locals invaded [ru] a stretch of beach controlled by the “Raduga” holiday complex, breaking through barriers erected by resort owners to prevent them trading beer, dried fish and other goods with the hotel clients. While the conflict was rapidly solved, the incident resonated strongly with local internet uesers, mostly residents of the capital Bishkek, who blame local squabbles for the worst tourist season since the country experienced a coup and ethnic violence in 2010.

The barrier-breakers pointed to an official law, which says [ru] that Issyk-Kul's entire coast line is the property of the state, meaning that all should have equal access to it. Elite resorts such as Raduga and Karven, who attract many of their clientele from Russia and Kazakhstan, barricade their sections of the beach and demand 200 soms ($4.20) from non-guests for entry. For local traders, this presents a problem. As a result, a crowd of villagers took matters into their own hands [ru], crashing through the barrier and demanding free access to the beach.

The picture taken by user @Weltkind_7 and posted on twitter.

The picture taken by user @Weltkind_7 and posted on twitter with the words “The “myrks” (the word used with humiliation to describe uneducated rural citizens) ran from ‘Raduga’ to ‘Karven’.”

The next day at a round table to resolve tensions local government officials supported [ru] local rights to access, contrarily adding that the resort owners had the right to pursue investigations against the people that broke through the barrier.

The fact that many of the Raduga hotels’ guests – mostly from Kyrgyzstan's richer and more stable neighbour, Kazakhstan – cut their stay short straight after the incident has left a sour taste in the mouth. Two days before the incident, on August 5, regional news outlet Eurasianet reported a sharp decline [ru] in tourist revenues for the first half of the season, and interviewed the owner of a smaller hotel who said other holidaymakers had refused to come to the country in the wake of separate protests taking place not far from the lake. On August 3, a local official from the resort town of Bosteri was shot [ru] in circumstances that remain unclear, while riots near a major gold mine near the lake back in June put [GV] foreign tourists on red alert.

Kyrgyzstan, more pluralistic than its immediate neighbors, is famous for its “protest culture” most recently described by a BBC report. The republic saw over 1,000 protests in 2012 alone.

Issyk Kul

Issyk-Kul on a calm summer day. Photo by Kirstin Styers

But the country's noisy participatory democracy, which has witnessed the rise of a paid protest industry since first President Askar Akayev was ousted in 2005, concerns local businesses. Because of this, netizens don't always take the protesters’ side in their scuffles with investors and the police.

Данияр (Daniyar) registered [ru] an opinion shared by many when joining a heated discussion on the Vecherni Bishkek news website:

Одни из нормальных мест на ИК, потому как там нет местных, а местные – в основном гадят там вот и все, для них там есть другие пляжи пускай ходят туда.

[Raduga and Karven resorts] are the best places in Issyk-Kul, precisely because there are no locals there. Local residents, in general, spoil everything; there are other places to go – they should go there.

Назгуль (Nazgul) countered [ru]:

Закон есть Закон, надо исполнять. По Закону КР береговые зоны озера ИК должны быть в открытом доступе. У нас Законы только на бумаге, или меняйте этот Закон или убирайте ограждения.

But the law is the law, and must be followed. According to the Law of the [republic], Issyk Kul's coastline must remain open. Our laws are only written on paper [but not implemented in reality]. Either [you] change the law or take down the barriers.

Gulya criticized [ru] the government:

Идиоты. В первую очередь наше идиотское государство. Не обеспечивая ничего из того, зачем оно создано , умеет только иметь своих сограждан. Вот низы и отражают как зеркало , происходящее в высших слоях.

The main idiots – our idiotic government. It doesn't do anything it ought to do, and only steals from its people. This is why the lowest [socio-economic] group [behaves like this] reflecting the things that are happening in the political elite.

Anel lamented [ru]:

Да вообще ужас, я работаю в туристической фирме, и так из-за нашей постоянной политической нестабильности поток туристов сокращается с каждым годом. Вообщем сами себе делаем плохо, лучше бы работать шли чем нахаляву что-то урвать. Один сезон только в году, когда заработать можно, то и не дают.

This is awful! I am working for a tourist firm [and know] that because of our eternal political instability there are fewer tourists every year. We harm ourselves. We should work instead of waiting for a chance to get something for free. There is only one [short season of two months] a year to make money [at the lake], and [conflicts] don't allow anyone to do it.

While Mnenie appealed for calm[ru]:

Во первых наши соседи казахи и не такое видали (и никуда не валили и не свалят), во вторых, Алаколь, не может составить конкуренцию Иссык-Кулю, в третьих, это все спланированная акция против ПКР… мол турсезон провален. Осталось тока Правительство обвинить за плохую погоду за те 2 месяца лета. Предлагаю всем нам успокоиться и не вводить в истерику население и туристов!

First of all, our neighbors from Kazakhstan will not go away (they have seen worse than this); secondly [nothing Kazakhstan has] can compete with Issyk-Kul; thirdly, this is clearly a planned campaign against the government of Kyrgyzstan [by the opposition] … to show that the tourist season is destroyed. Now all that needs to happen is for the government to be accused of making bad weather. I suggest calming down and not scaring the tourists and the population as a whole.

And Вика Моссква (Vika Moscow) suggested there was a hidden hand in the Raduga invasion:

рядом Кулушкан и энергетик никто там ведь заборы не ломал-в гадюшнике никто ничего захватывать не хотел-это происки конкурентов или провокации

There are [smaller, poorer] resorts [near Raduga] but no one broke the fences there – no one wants to invade these “dirty barns” – [the incident at “Raduga”] is a provocation carried out by [Raduga's] competitors.

Tourists jump off a rickety pier. Photo by Kate Sampsell-Willmann.

Tourists jump off a rickety pier. Photo by Kate Sampsell-Willmann.

N.B On a more positive note, local artists Nurlan Bangor and Saltanat Ashirova have recently released a pop tune with a decent video dedicated [ru] to Lake Issyk-Kul. Watch and enjoy.

This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

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