In some Kyrgyzstan feasts, it is customary that the guest of honor be offered the right eye of a grilled sheep, and he/she eats it while the others applaud. The second most honorary guest receives the left eye (not the member of TLC), and that the next two are given the ears.

90 percent of the country is covered by mountains, and there are 3,000 lakes. There is a statue of Lenin in Ala-Too Square, formerly known as Lenin Square, in the capital city of Bishkek.

     Kyrgyzstan's economy has some some strengths and many weaknesses. One of their strengths are its mineral resources, especially mercury and gold. They have agricultural self-sufficiency and also have large hydroelectric power potential, emphasis on potential. Their agricultural based economy causes many probles. Their economy has declined since the 1991 breakup of the USSR, whom they depended totally for trade and supplies. Astoundingly, their inflation a high in mid-1993 at an alarming rate of 1,500% per year.

     The population of Kyrgyzstan is approximately 4, 553,000 people (1992 est.). The area of Kyrgyzstan is about 198,500 square kilometers (76,600 square miles). Kyrgyzstan is located in central Asia in the Tien Shan Mountains. Kazakhstan borders it on the north, Uzbekistan on the west, Tajikistan on the southwest, and China on the southeast. The ethnic groups in Kyrgyzstan are mainly Kyrgyz, Russian, and Uzbek. Smaller minorities of the republic are Ukranian, German, and Tatar. The main languages spoken are Kyrgyz and Russian. Almost all of the people follow the Islamic religion. Their government is classified as an independent republic.

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When people take a long string of consonants and jam "stan" on the end of it, the country they're generally thinking of is Kyrgyzstan - pronounced roughly like "kurgistan", as I'm sure you're aware.

The country's been in the news recently due to political unrest, somewhat aping the style of Georgia (the country, not the state) and the Ukraine. Things aren't quite the same though:

  • The demonstrations have not been peaceful. Policemen have been killed, (disinformation), buildings torched, demonstrators beaten by thugs and arrested by riot police. Looting has been widespread.

  • The opposition has no telegenic leader.

  • The protests are not spread over the entire country, yet.

  • George Soros hasn't financed anything, as far as we can tell.

  • Neither, for that matter, have Russian or American governments or NGOs.

Nevertheless, a revolution occured in March 2005, in which the opposition seized control the country and promised to hold new elections.

Salient geopolitical factoids:

  • The political system, although nominally democratic, is heavily based on clan systems. The country itself is divided north-south by a mountain range, which has a different alliance of clans on either side. Bishkek, the capital, is in the north. Former President Askar Akayev is also from the north.

  • The south is poor, heavily unemployed, and rural. That's where all the recent trouble got started. Travel there is unadvisable.

  • Trade routes for Afghan opium and heroin pass through Kyrgyzstan from Tajikistan, after which it goes through Russia and into Eastern Europe. As a result, south Kyrgyzstan has a few problems with families.

  • It's the only country in central Asia (if not the world) to have both Russian and American military bases on its soil. The two bases are about 30km apart. The Russians came second, and are there through historic interest, and to fend off Chinese and American interests. The Americans are there because it's close to China and Afghanistan, and because it annoys the Russians.

So how did this mess get started?

President Akayev was elected almost 15 years ago. When he first came to power he was hailed as a reformer, and to a certain extent he was. In time, however, he consolidated his grip on power, and has modified the constitution once or twice via referendums.

The one remaining constitutional obstacle to his continued rule was the 15-year limit on the term of a President. Akayev did say that he intended to stand down in October, as per the constitution. However, during the recent round of elections he won 69 of 75 seats, which is enough to force through changes to the Constitution allowing him to stay on.

As usual, a half-dozen international organisations observed the election. As usual, the Russian and Chinese rubber-stamped the proceedings. OSCE, the only other election observers of note in the country, changed their rubber-stampin' ways some time before the Georgian "Rose revolution", and their preliminary after-election reports have heavily influenced international opinion on other elections in the region ever since.

According to OSCE, the elections did not go smoothly. Although they validated them, they accused both sides of vote-buying, and noted that the opposition had restricted access to the media, among other things.

Then both Osh and Jalalabad, the two biggest cities of the south, were taken over by the opposition. A small protest of 100 people took place in Bishkek and was promptly suppressed by 200 riot police.

Larger protests then took place, featuring pitched battles between protestors and riot police. Shots were reported to be fired, but no injuries from gunfire were reported. Subsequently, both the presidential palace and the main government buildings were stormed and occupied by protestors.

The police were nowhere to be seen in Bishkek, and mobs looted burning shops and cars. Peaceful it ain't. Akayev was rumoured to have fled to neighboring Kazakhstan, via the Russian airbase.

Then, right when things should have been settling down, Akayev released a statement via email denouncing the heads of opposition. Calling them "gang of irresponsible political carpetbaggers and plotters"1, he appealed to the people of Kyrgyzstan to recognise him as the constitutionally elected President and to do everything by the book.

Meanwhile, looting of shops continued. At this point, the opposition found themselves a figurehead/spokesperson in the form of Kurmanbek Bakiev, and his right-hand man, Felix Kulov.

(Info on Kurmanbek Bakiev coming soon)

Felix Kulov was a former vice president during the reign of Akayev's predecessor, Tursunbek Chyngyshev. He resigned his post citing irreconcilable differences over undemocratic policies2.

He then served as vice president to Akayev and then became a member of the opposition, after which he was imprisoned on charges of embezzlement that are alleged to be false.

Released from jail by protestors, Kulov was appointed by Bakiev to restore security to Bishkek. He quickly took control, and appears to have been as effective as was realistically possible, given that he had severely depleted manpower. A curfew was imposed, and police and citizens formed joint patrols in an attempt to restore order.

In response to the release of Akayev's statement, an interim parliament was formed and Bakiev was appointed interim president, and promised a re-run of the elections in June.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, then released a lukewarm statement recognising the new parliament while appealing for order and respect for the rule of law.3 After neighbouring Uzbekistan offered assistance to ensure stability, he also ordered the Russian government to consider sending aid.

Then, the previous parliament stood up and attempted to re-assert it's authority. A power struggle between the two parliaments ensued, and paralyzed the country for several days, before the previous parliament ceded power, "to defend stability and in the interest of the nation".4

Cleanup operations continue, and the drama continues to unfold.

So what's at stake here?

For Akayev, his presidency and the power of his clan is at stake. Both his son and his daughter were elected to the ousted parliament, and the country's major corporations are all run by members of his family.

For Russia, it's the same old story of America coaxing its border states away from the Rodina and into the arms of NATO or the EU.

As for the neighbors, nobody wants to see the country slide into what could be an ugly civil war, given that ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks have occured in the past. Islamic extremism also shows signs of taking hold in the south, and nobody wants that either.

For the people of north Kyrgyzstan, it's the troublesome south up to its usual tricks, this time under the banner of democracy. For the southerners, even though nobody can tell, in all likelihood they got royally screwed in the election and are looking to address some grievances.

Attempting to topple Akayev, however, looked to be overstretching a little, up until the moment that it happened. The chief factor was Akayev's insistence on avoiding the slaughter of protestors, and the police reluctance to stand up to them. Among other things, low morale and an unwillingness to go down the same road as neighboring dictatorships assured the opposition's victory once they siezed the initiative.


My Kyrgyz friends
BBC News:
Various other news sites and on-the-scene blogs

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