It has the makings of tragic opera: the brilliantly gifted and well-liked scientist, who had power thrust on him and managed to establish his little-known country on the international stage, only to fall prey to the temptations of political office and the demands of his allegedly venal family.
For all he would like to, Kyrgyzstan's first president Askar Akaev is unlikely to see his homeland again.
On November 10, Akaev celebrated his 70th birthday in Moscow. Overthrown by opposition-backed crowds in 2005, Akaev left his country in a hurry and a helicopter, and has not returned since. A physicist by training, he currently researches and teaches at the Moscow State University. His legacy and personality divide Kyrgyz to this day.
Akaev was elected President of Kyrgyzstan in 1990, emerging as a compromise candidate to hep save the country from a potentially violent power struggle.
His ambitious reforms earned Kyrgyzstan the title of the ‘Switzerland of Central Asia’ and ‘Island of Democracy‘ but as his rule grew more entrenched, he was accused of rampant corruption, nepotism and even alcoholism.
For a long time after the so-called Tulip Revolution, Akaev stayed quiet, appearing on Kyrgyz TV screens only at extraordinary moments, such as the funeral of his friend and reputed drinking partner, Boris Yeltsin, in 2007.
It was another funeral — that of his elder brother earlier this summer — that sparked rumours Akaev would return to Kyrgyzstan. Nevertheless, the threat of arrest and an ambivalent public response to his prospective return persuaded him to stay put in Moscow.
Speaking to News-Asia with typical eloquence last week, Akaev made plain that he hadn't given up the idea of touching down on terra firma:
Я принадлежу к кыргызам плоть от плоти, кровь от крови, поэтому вполне естественно, что для меня государственная независимость кыргызов – это возможность сохранить себя на века как титульную нацию, сберечь свои неповторимые черты и качества, умножая тем самым вклад в общую копилку мировой культуры…Я был и остаюсь верным сыном кыргызского народа, гражданином Кыргызстана. Никогда не мыслил свою жизнь в отрыве от родной земли, где покоятся мои родители и мои предки. Всей душой я мечтаю вернуться на Родину.
I belong to the Kyrgyz people like flesh belongs to flesh and blood belongs to blood, so naturally I see Kyrgyz independence as an opportunity to preserve our nation for centuries, to preserve its unique features and qualities, thereby multiplying its contribution to the general treasury of world culture…I always have been and remain a true son of the Kyrgyz people, a Kyrgyz citizen. I never imagined my life separated from my home soil, where my parents and ancestors are buried. With all my soul I dream of returning to my homeland.
But while Akaev's successors have made him seem benign by comparison, many citizens are not willing to forgive and forget. As one user wrote on the social media platform of vb.kg, an online newspaper, one commenter wrote:
Он несет персональную ответственность за сегодняшнее плачевное состояние Кыргызстана, вор, предатель своего кыргызского народа.
He is personally responsible for current poor state of Kyrgyzstan, [he is] a thief, [he is] a traitor of his own Kyrgyz people.
And though he still makes a good speech, noted another commenter, his record in office speaks for itself:
По-прежнему отличный теоретик, прекрасно выражающий свои мысли — этого у ААА не отнять.Однако, второй срок, дети в парламенте, семейно-клановое правление — все это дары первого Президента, которые и привели к двум переворотам.
As previously he is an excellent theorist, able to express his thoughts beautifully — that can never be taken away from him. But his second [presidential] term, children in the parliament, family-clan rule — these were all gifts from the first president, that led to two revolutions.
Typically supporters of the first president claim he was a good person surrounded by bad people, chiefly his wife Mairam, son Aidar and daughter Bermet:
Акаев – человек с Большой буквы! Он Академик! А вот семья его подвела. У него не было мужского и сильного духа поставить их на место. А так до него нашим руководителям жить да жить! Никогда они его уровня не достигнут! Такие рождаются раз в столетие. Очень приятно, что он кыргыз и его знает и уважает весь мир.
Akaev is a person of real importance. He is an academic. But he was betrayed by his family. He did not have the strong, manly spirit needed to stop them. At any rate, our [current] leaders will never reach his level! People like him are born once every hundred years. I am very glad that he is Kyrgyz and that he is known and respected all over the world.
But many are appalled by what appears to be an underhanded project of “Team Akaev” to allow the old man — in spite of his crimes against the state — a safe retirement in Kyrgyzstan:
Последнее время, часто стал давать интервью! Его команда уже работает над тем его вернуть в КР. И в соц. Сетях активная работа ведется в этрм направлении! Но ЧИТАТЬ ЕГО ИНТЕРВЬЮ УЖЕ ПРОТИВНО! ВРЕТ И НЕ КРАСНЕЕТ! ЗА 10 лет еще не осознал свою вину перед народом, перед страной! Лучше бы извинения попросил у народа!!! ВОР должен сидеть в Тюрьме! Этим все сказано! Еще и других обвиняет!
Recently he has begun giving interviews more frequently! His team is working hard on his return to the Kyrgyz Republic. This is happening in our social networks! But TO READ HIS INTERVIEWS DISGUSTS ME! HE IS LYING OBVIOUSLY! In [almost] 10 years [since the revolution] he has not understood his guilt before his people and country! It would be better if he asked the people for forgiveness!!! THE THIEF should be imprisoned! But he dares to accuse others!
Facebook user Meerim Sydykbekova, meanwhile, damned Akaev with feint praise, commending him for not firing on protesters as his successor Kurmanbek Bakiyev did when confronting a similar revolt in 2010:
Конечно любому человеку охота вернутся на родину,я не против этого,пусть возвращается живет,он по крайней мере не убивал людей Бакиев,но хвалить его не стоит.ничего хорошего он не сделал
Every person wants to return to his or her motherland, so I am not against it. Let him come back and live. At least, he did not kill people like Bakiyev [the second president of Kyrgyzstan] did. But we should not praise him. He did nothing good.
Wherever he ends up living out his life, Akaev has now reached 70, a highly respected age among Kyrgyz people. Moreover, he seems to have developed a taste for fashion absent during his time as Kyrgyzstan's president. Below he is pictured celebrating his birthday in Moscow, wine glass in hand:
Какой стиляга Акаев в свои 70! :) pic.twitter.com/13kvlO6glD
— Ажара (@azhar__m) November 10, 2014
Akaev is such a fancy septuagenarian! :)