Dariha Erketaeva: "Public order in Kyrgyzstan has been restored to some degrees"

Bishkek, formerly Pishpek and Frunze, is the capital and the largest city of Kyrgyzstan. Photo: Zsoolt The picture is published under a Creative Commons license.

April 14, 2010
Dariha Erketaeva works for the Central Asia regional office of Danish humanitarian organization DanChurchAid. She has been working for the Heinrich Böll Foundation some years ago. Views presented in the interview are her views and do not present the views of her employer.

What is the current situation in the capital Bishkek? Is last week’s popular unrest still to be felt or to be seen on the streets?

Dariha Erketaeva: There are visible signs that public order has been restored at least to some degrees. The city is being patrolled at night by police and voluntary guards. A majority of businesses and organisations have resumed their work, public transport is operating normally.
The security situation remains overall precarious as criminal activities are on the rise and a massive redistribution of properties is taking place. A large number of shops, restaurants, and businesses were looted after nightfall on 7/8 April including major shopping centres and supermarkets. Residents now say criminal groups are taking advantage of the situation to seize illegally land properties in the city outskirts. There have been occasional armed clashes involving criminal groups in the city centre. This chain of events is the exact repetition of what happened 5 years ago in the aftermath of the so called Tulip Revolution. It seems however that this time more shops were preserved from being looted thanks to well protected entry doors and reactive shopkeepers who quickly remove the merchandise.

Do people in all parts of the country recognize the interim government led by Rosa Otunbaeva as country legitimate leadership? What do they expect from the new government?

Dariha Erketaeva: The interim government is currently being regarded as legitimate in as much as it is dissociating itself from the Bakiev administration which lost all credibility after the last week deadly clashes. However, I think that the question of popular support to the interim government can only be answered in the longer run. The situation now looks very difficult for the new political leadership. They clearly do not have much time and resources to address social grievances of the population. Kyrgyz are running out of patience amid worsening economic conditions. The reshuffle of administrative positions decided by interim authorities has already sparked strong criticism among the public. Kyrgyz people expect their government to really serve the common interest and not to be trapped this time into political rivalries. The death toll of last week uprising has put additional pressures on shoulders of the interim government to deliver on its democratic credentials.

It is said that the new leaders have threatened to organize a special operation against president Kurmanbek Bakiev. Bakiev reportedly is in the south with armed troops, where his family has an influential clan. How true is it that President Bakiev threatens with a civil war between his supporters and supporters of the interim government, or with a split between north and south?
Dariha Erketaeva: The interim government and the deposed President have used strong words for their own propaganda over the last days. I am actually convinced that civil war is part of Mr. Bakiev’s rhetoric because he is running out of options. To put it bluntly, he has lost his main leverages of power and is unfit to mobilize enough support in the Southern provinces. Mr. Bakiev support appears to be limited to his hometown of Jalal Abad where he has sought refuge. He does not control at present any army troops or arsenals except for a group of armed men escorting him.

There is a long-standing discourse in Kyrgyzstan on north-south divide based on clan affiliations. During the recent uprising, this discourse has once more fueled speculations of civil war although it does not hold well against the reality. Northern and Southern population did share the same dissatisfaction with the Bakiev government like rise in price level and perceived corruption. Prominent figures of the interim government are themselves Southerners including leaders of the interim government Rosa Otunbaeva, Omurbek Tekebaev, General Ismail Isakov and Azimbek Beknazarov.

Despite the remote probability of civil war, there is a real potential for targeted violence/contract killings between Bakiev close supporters and members of the interim government. Bakiev and his associates are lacking a proper exit strategy. They are currently facing the prospect of being trialed and convicted by the new authorities for the death of 83 protesters. Bakiev’s brother Janysh was allegedly involved in recruiting foreign snipers who shot at the crowd of protesters on April 7. Even if former president Bakiev and his family are guaranteed safe passage into exile, some of his supporters could resort to violence as last option to avoid imprisonment. It remains to be seen to which extent the interim government is prepared to investigate the responsibility for the killing of protesters.


Neighboring states such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are run by similar to Bakiev’s authoritarian regimes. How do the neighboring countries respond to the events? Are further popular unrests to be expected in the region?
Dariha Erketaeva: Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan initially closed their border check points with Kyrgyzstan but moved on to offer different responses to the political uprising. Kazakhstan rapidly pledged financial assistance to Kyrgyzstan and sent its Minister of Foreign Affairs as the chairman of the OSCE in office to Bishkek for talks. On the contrary, Uzbekistan has remained officially silent and made no declarations.

I am not of the opinion that the Kyrgyz uprising will lead to further unrest in the region in the short term. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan might display authoritarian tendencies similar to the Bakiev regime (lack of media freedom, corruption) but regimes in the two countries are belonging to a very different category. States institutions there are much more robust, relying on heavy security apparatus and larger revenues while facing much less political opposition. In Uzbekistan, the political opposition is virtually non-existent after 20 years of oppressive rule by President Karimov. Mr. Karimov has recently tightened his grip on power thanks to his logistic support to the US war effort in Afghanistan. In Kazakhstan, President Nazarbaev is firmly in power and credited with popularity for presiding over strong economic growth thanks to abundant oil and gas revenues. Even if opposition parties and civil society do exist in Kazakhstan, they have played a minor role in the political process since independence.


What are the specific steps taken by the interim government for stabilization of the situation? How can it be prevented that this time change will happen, and not just another clan will come to power?

Dariha Erketaeva: It is still premature to analyze the action of the interim government in sharp terms. At the international level, the interim government has called the Russian Federation for financial assistance and earned the political support of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Interim Leader Otunbaeva has also reassured the American government that her administration will honor the agreement signed on the lease of the Manas Air base. Steps taken at the domestic level have been more ambiguous. The interim government has proclaimed its intention to prosecute members of the Bakiev cabinet for fraud and end the long period of impunity for government high-officials. While this initiative may bring positive change to the country political culture in the long term, this might prove divisive in the short term, especially at times when Kyrgyzstan is in need of national reconciliation. There is no doubt that a stronger and independent judiciary sector is needed, however the interim government must work constructively towards building its capacity. Amid worsening economic conditions, the main challenge of the interim government will be to reestablish trust and ensure that government spending are allocated to public interest and not diverted for private purposes. More parliamentary oversight of state budget is needed to help foster an efficient system of checks and balances. There have been encouraging talks by members of the interim government to reduce the power of the presidency. The re-drafting of the constitution might give an opportunity to move away from a strong presidential system towards a political system dominated by the parliament and less vulnerable therefore to the capture of clan-based political elite.

Dariha Erketaeva works for the Central Asia regional office of Danish humanitarian organization DanChurchAid. She has been working for the Heinrich Böll Foundation some years ago. Views presented in the interview are her views and do not present the views of her employer.