With Kyrgyz law enforcement corrupt and over-burdened, xenophobic vigilante groups — some of whom claim ties to the government — are growing more powerful every year.
Take the public association ‘Kyrgyz Choroloru’. Kyrgyz Choroloru, which translates as Kyrgyz Warriors and is shortened to KyrgChoro, is one of several groups that have issued calls to restrict the number of foreign workers living in Kyrgyzstan and positioned themselves as defenders of the national honour.
On December 28 last year, KyrgChoro, clad in traditional Kyrgyz hats — ak kalpaks — raided a Bishkek karaoke club, asserting that it was a cover for a brothel frequented by foreign businessmen. They claimed they had informed police of the existence of the brothel but that police had not reacted to their information.
A video of the raid shows KyrgChoro members invade private rooms in the club and confront a group of 17 middle-aged Chinese men and 22 young Kyrgyz women, presumed to be sex workers. Both men and women were forcefully taken out of the rooms and lined against the walls.
A separate video of the same incident, sent to media outlet Kloop.kg shows KyrgChoro physically intimidating the Chinese karaoke club clients and the women, who tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the group they were working as waitresses.
At one point a member of KyrgChoro tells the women:
You are so immoral! Aren't there enough Kyrgyz men? Shame on you! [You are] standing here and pretending to cry. How dare you? You will be mothers in the future, you will feed your own children. Why do you do this? You don't have cash [bribes] to pass your exams?
After KyrgChoro questioned the club-goers, police arrived and took both the girls and the Chinese men to the station. Later police initiated hooliganism charges against five members of KyrgChoro, for breaking several doors down during the raid and stealing tapes from security cameras. The women and Chinese men were quickly released due to the lack of evidence of any illegal activity at the club.
KyrgChoro justified their actions in terms of the struggle for “the values of Kyrgyz” and “honour of women” in their interview with Kloop.kg.
The video sent shockwaves through the Kyrgyz Internet space.
YouTube user Bektur Elebesov, who commented on the second video, was broadly supportive of the group:
Я против национализма, но ведь тут явно видно что девушки занимаются проституцией, а китайцы их клиенты. Раз уж менты с этим не борются и более того крышуют их, то мне хочется поддержать этих активистов, хоть они и преувеличили свои полномочия.
I am against nationalism, but here it is obvious that girls [in the video] are prostitutes and Chinese [men] are their clients. Given the police does not fight [prostitution] and, moreover, covers and protects it, I would like to state my support for these activists, despite the fact that they exceeded their mandate.
Facebook user Meder Sulyukta also justified the group's work:
Зато в следующий раз и эти малолетки и китайцы десять раз подумают прежде чем посетить такие злополучные места. Если власть не может навести порядок то пускай хотя бы такие активисты наводят.
At least these girls and Chinese [men] will think ten times before visiting such illegal places. If our authorities cannot solve the problem, let our activists to do it.
But others considered KyrgChoro as nothing more than hoodlums:
“Кыргыз чоролору” быдло вы а не защитники и борцы.
— Девушка-энергетик (@energetic1414) December 31, 2014
‘Kyrgyz Chorologu’ you are trash and not protectors [of morality].
Marat Muratali, commenting on Kloop.kg's Facebook plugin, saw similarities between the activities of KyrgChor and the Russia-based Kyrgyz migrants that attack their female compatriots for associating with foreign men. (This phenomenon has been covered by Global Voices here and here).
это прямое продолжение “патриотов” в россии (дело Сапаргуль), избивавших и убивавших соотечественниц за отношения с иностранцами. по законам Кыргызстана – уголовщина. в реалии – измельчение нации, результат коррупции и отсутствия интеллекта у этой массовки под гордым названием “Чоролор”. Уят. Нам всем большой уят.
This is the direct continuation of [the work of] ‘patriots’ in Russia [the case of Sapargul], who beat and killed our female compatriots because of their relationships with foreigners. According to the laws of Kyrgyzstan [this incident should be] a criminal case. [We are witnessing] the degradation of a nation, which is the result of corruption and the lack of intelligence of a group that proudly calls itself ‘warriors’. Shame. Shame on all of us.
Shockingly, a few days after the incident took place, the leader of KyrgChoro, Zamirbek Kerchebaev, told Kloop.kg that his group had signed agreements with Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Internal Affairs, the State Committee of National Security, the Ministry of Labour, Migration and Youth, and the General Prosecutor. He also mentioned that the Ministry of Economy of Kyrgyzstan had provided them with a small office in the center of Bishkek. A Ministry of Internal Affairs spokesperson confirmed the existence of several agreements between the state and KyrgChoro but said the agreements were limited to information-sharing and did not legislate for raids on private karaoke clubs.
Nationalist vigilante groups have mushroomed in Kyrgyzstan since the country's second revolution in 2010, and have remained powerful amid poor socioeconomic conditions. Earlier this year a youth organisation, Kalys, or ‘Justice’, prevented a concert taking place in Bishkek because they judged that the event's headline act, Ukrainian boy band Kazaky, had dance routines that glorified homosexuality. Police were unable or unwilling to stop Kalys breaking up the performance and costing the rock club hosting Kazaky thousands of dollars-worth of ticket fees. Kalys regularly cite “traditional values” as grounds for their homophobic stunts.
Along with the LGBT community, Chinese expatriates in Kyrgyzstan are also disproportionately targeted by patriotic groups, who fear the small country will be inundated by incomers from their populous neighbour. The Coalition of a New Generation is one group that carries out impromptu inspections of companies employing Chinese migrants, a function the group deems state authorities are failing to fulfil.