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Strangled with Her Own Scarf: A Student's Murder Haunts Kyrgyz Society

Camilla Duishebaeva. Image from Kloop.kg.

Camilla Duishebaeva. Image from Kloop.kg.

Almost exactly a year ago 19-year-old Kyrgyz student Camila Duishebaeva was found dead at a cemetery on the outskirts of Bishkek.

A case was opened but never solved. A middle-aged man close to the Central Asian country's political elite was among the last people to see her alive. Duishebaeva's Whatsapp account, which has been disabled and re-enabled in the period since her death, has been a focus for journalists in the country, who are suggesting a government cover-up. Critics of the country's law enforcement say flourishing corruption and patronage relations have blocked the case.

When Duishebaeva was first found lying next to her white scarf on March 17, the news provoked a storm of reaction. Her relatives had used VKontakte and other Russian social networking services to bring attention to her disappearance on March 10. A month later, ex-Minister of Interior Affairs Abdula Suranchiev, enraged the girl's family by denying Duishebaeva had been murdered and claiming she had “led a frivolous lifestyle.”

Forensics determined the death as suffocation.

The night before the morning of her disappearance, Duishebaeva was with a friend at a cafe in the center of Bishkek. Duishebaeva's friend said that they did not have enough money to pay the bill, which is why Duishebaeva decided to call 52-year-old Kaly Salyanov, a male relative of Kyrgyzstan's former General Prosecutor, Aida Salyanova, who came and paid, before dropping off her friend and taking Duishebaeva to a late night karaoke club.

According to a cousin, Duishebaeva returned home “in no mood” and spent the following morning sitting by a window lost in thought. She then left the house and was not seen again.

While no concrete evidence has emerged to connect Salyanov to the murder, the involvement in its preamble of an older man — who was not known to Duishebaeva's family — has added an extra layer of murkiness in a country where married men often seek out younger girlfriends to sponsor. There is an excellent music video that touches on this phenomenon in neighbouring Uzbekistan featuring Uzbek rapper Radius 21. Duishebaeva had a boyfriend in neigbouring Kazakhstan who is not considered as a suspect.

Salyanov's police testimony was as follows:

Вечером 9 марта я с друзьями был в бане. Примерно в 10 часов ночи мне позвонила Камила, сказала: Калыбек байке, мы задолжали в кафе, не могли бы вы одолжить тысячу сомов”. Я сказал, что не могу, сижу с ребятами, но она настойчиво продолжала звонить – семь-восемь раз. Я не смог отказать и поехал в кафе вместе с другом, экс-губернатором Нарынской области. После того как мы расплатились, девушки попросили их подвезти. Мы довезли Гульнизу до дома, после чего Камила попросила оставить ее возле кафе “40х40″. Высадив ее там, мы с другом поехали домой. Дома я встречал своего друга, пришли также герои 7 апреля, а 10 марта мы с Осунбеком Жамансариевым уехали в Джумгал. В тот день нас не было в Бишкеке, этому есть доказательства, есть показания свидетелей.

On the evening of March 9 I was with my friends at the sauna. At around 10 ‘o’ clock Camilla rang me and said: Kalybek baike (older brother) we owe the café some money, could you lend us [15 dollars]? I said I cannot, I am sitting with the guys, but she kept on ringing – 7 or 8 times. I could not refuse and went to the café with my friend, the ex-governor of Naryn province. After we paid up, the girls asked us to drop them off. We took [Camilla's friend] home, after which Camilla asked us to drop her off close to [another café] 40×40. Leaving her there we went home. At home I met with a friend, and some heroes of [Kyrgyzstan's second revolution] and on March 10 we went with Osunbek Jamansariev to Dzhumgal. On [the day of Camilla's murder] we were not in Bishkek, and there are witnesses to prove this.

The court of public opinion

Amid condolences to the family, public opinion has been largely suspicious of Salyanov's testimony. A minority fear a young girl's death is being used as part of a political campaign to target Aida Salyanova, who recently left her prosecutor's post to campaign in Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary elections.

On vb.kg, a Kyrgyz news website, articles about the murder are among the most popular published:

Скорей всего было изнасилование, затем чтобы скрыть происшедшее,кто-то был вынужден устранить потерпевшую! Не верю в дружбу молодой девушки и пожилого мужика!

Probably it was rape and then in order to cover up what had happened, someone needed to get rid of the victim. I do not believe in a friendship between an elderly man and a young girl.

эта история открывает нам страшную реальность современного Кыргызстана. Когда девушки одиноки и ищут утешение в увеселительных местах, когда молодежь без денег, когда есть “неприкасаемая элита”, когда жизнь человека стоит 1000 сом, когда байманапство затмевает справедливость.

This story opens up for us the awful realities of modern Kyrgyzstan. Where girls are lonely and seek solace in night venues, where young people have no money, where there is an “untouchable elite”, where human life is worth [$15], where patronage networks overshadow justice.

мдаа что сестренка что брат одного поля ягоды аморальные, брата тянет на молодых а сестренку на властных

It seems that the sister [then General Prosecutor Aida Salyanova] and the brother [Kalybek] Salyanov are equally amoral. One goes after the young and another chases power.

салянова и глава мвд с нарына, так что “ищите ветер в поле”… жаль девушку, только жизнь начиналась.

Salyanova and a [former] Naryn police boss, good luck solving that one. Sorry for the girl, her life was just beginning.

Соболезную родителям. То что произошло, конечно, увы не исправить, страшно за своих детей. Сейчас время тяжелое, люди озверели, пропало чувство жалости, уважения друг другу. Смотрите за детьми, особенно в такой подростковый период. Девочки, имейте чувство гордости, не позволяйте себе вести неправильный образ жизни.

Condolences to the family. You cannot change the past. I fear for my children. Now is a difficult time, people have changed, they have lost empathy, respect for one another. Look out for your children, especially when they are teenagers. Girls have a sense of pride, do not allow yourselves to lead the wrong type of lives.

Our name is Camilla Duishebaeva.

WhatsApp mystery

Public interest in the case might have died down, had Duishebaeva’s WhatsApp profile not reignited it. According to police, Duishebaeva's WhatsApp messages were deleted when an employee of the municipal refuse collection service found her phone last year, miles away from where her body was located. The account was active until May before reportedly disappearing completely and reappearing again — showing activity — in February this year.

Kyrgyz investigators invited counterparts from Malaysia to assist in uncovering the facts, but to no avail. Due to the large volume of messages exchanged every day, WhatsApp regularly deletes the message-load from its servers. Key evidence in Duishebaeva's case has disappeared.

In the meantime, the case has shrunk already low levels of trust in the country's government. While nobody is able to draw firm conclusions, people are sure it was more than an ordinary murder.

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