Thursday, March 24, 2005

Show of Force in Bishkek

Over the last few weeks, Kyrgyzstan witnessed countrywide demonstrations by supporters of opposition candidates who felt that recent parliamentary elections there were manipulated by the government and its agents. The elections in question had taken place in two rounds on February 27 and March 13 of this year. However, as recently as last week, protesters in the south of Kyrgyzstan moved from condemning government manipulation of election results to an outright demand for the ousting of President Akaev ahead of the presidential election planned for October.

Amid the unrest, the opposition seized key regional government buildings in Jalalabad and Osh (two southern cities in Kyrgyzstan) despite an initial heavy-handed reaction by the government. The Special Police units that were sent in to regain control in those two cities were overcome by protestors only a few days after the initial assault that gave the government momentary control over government buildings there. Initial reports from Human rights organizations indicate that the government assault on those buildings sent 14 protestors to the hospital.

Following that unsuccessful bid to regain control through force and the fact that many local law enforcement officials joined the opposition, the government of President Akaev proposed a negotiated compromise. This was seen by the opposition as too little, too late. A prominent opposition leader explained: "The authorities have been trying the voters' patience for too long: they waited more than ten days, hungry and in the rain, for government representatives to come and see them, but no one did. Now we've realized what Akaev's vaccine is: to crush the people's will by exhausting their physical strength and nerves. I don't think the people will negotiate with him now."

It also appeared last week that the opposition may, after all, show some flexibility and accept negotiations, but only if they were to be had directly with the president and not with his ministers. But earlier this week, another opposition leader warned that "the situation in the south is changing rapidly and people are becoming less controllable, and that is causing grave concern to our representatives in Osh and Jalalabad. The situation is extremely explosive."

According to a friend of mine who is in Bishkek to conduct research for a dissertation on conflict resolution in Central Asia, the government closed all the universities in Bishkek on Tuesday this week and ordered the students to attend a massive pro-government rally in the city. She was told by her Kyrgyz translator that the government was making very strong statements against all international aid organizations, USAID, and the US Ambassador, Stephen E. Young. At the end of the meeting, the organizers handed out a newsprint copy of a forged statement they said was issued by Ambassador Young in which he says that the US goal is to remove President Akaev from power. The newsprint, which she says is clearly not written by a native English speaker, is likely to be seen by many in Kyrgyzstan as authentic, due to existing skepticism about US intentions in the region.

Nonetheless, today, protesters stormed the presidential compound forcing President Askar Akayev and his family to flee the Kyrgyz capital. Following the take-over, an opposition leader, former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev said: "We will establish order. We will not allow looting. We will hold our own elections to start our rule."

It appears that Russia has lost yet another of its strong men in a country it once controlled. This is now three in a row. First it was Georgia, then the Ukraine, and now Kyrgyzstan. This may very well serve as a turning point for the rest of Central Asia. It also may just send a reminder to those 'nostalgic soviets' in Russia that this is, indeed, a new world we are living.


Blogger laurenbove said...

"...is likely to be seen by many in Kyrgyzstan as authentic, due to existing skepticism about US intentions in the region."

If a forged badly written scrap of paper can stand for authentic something else is truly going wrong. How freaking scary. I can't believe how frought with unrest our little planet really is.

March 24, 2005

Blogger Jawad said...

It is actually not unusual to have large numbers of people fall for blatant propaganda that otherwise can be easily dismissed by objective observers. Kyrgyz people do not know good English from bad English. So, some of them will rely on their built-in resentment to form definitive opinions. It is no different anywhere else. In fact, I see it among some groups here in the US when it comes to talk about the Middle East.

This is a case of what I call: outsourcing intellectual capacity and logical thinking. People nowadays are no longer willing to analyze events for themselves. They would rather have the short version given to them by someone else (it helps if you can give them some visuals as well - that's why TV is so powerful) and that's it. They need know no more because they only look for what confirms their worst fears and their built-in ideology.

Such is the sad state of humanity today.

March 25, 2005


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