By Ebi Spahiu (03/19/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On March 5, an awareness-raising campaign in honor of International Women’s Day, conducted by a group of human rights activists from Bishkek Feminists SQ, a feminist organization based in Bishkek, turned into a violent attack at Osh Bazaar, one of the largest bazaars in Kyrgyzstan’s capital. As the activists were trying to engage with local vendors and bystanders on the history of women’s rights and provide information on domestic violence prevention resources, the crowd became increasingly hostile towards the group. As many mistook the female symbol for the Christian cross, they accused the activists of promoting Christianity and physically attacked them, leaving two of the activists injured.
For the second consecutive year, Bishkek Feminist SQ, a local feminist organization run by a group of young human rights activists, has challenged the grandeur of the March 8 celebrations - a Soviet legacy marking this day - by advocating feminist values and raising awareness on alarming statistics of gender-based violence in Kyrgyzstan. Their mission is to end all forms of oppression and violence against women and this year, in honor of International Women’s Day, they decided to hold an awareness-raising campaign at Osh Bazaar, one of largest and most crowded bazaars located on the west side of Bishkek. They had prepared quizzes on the history of women’s rights and informational brochures on violence prevention resources available for women in Bishkek.
The incident took place in the late afternoon of March 5. According to activists’ accounts to local news agency Kloop.kg, a group of 20-30 people, predominantly men, gathered around the event location and started asking insulting and intimidating questions to the young activists while they were trying to conduct their activities. According to Bishkek Feminist SQ's official press statement, most men confused the female gender symbol with that of a Christian cross and began asking verbally aggressive questions to the young activists: “Why do you have crosses at your booth?” “Are you not Muslims?” “You see that kalpak? It makes me Kyrgyz. If you’re Kyrgyz, you must be Muslim!” They also stated that March 8 should not be celebrated because it “is not a Muslim holiday,” says SQ. As verbal confrontation between the two groups escalated, the men grabbed the activists by their collars, spit on them and blew cigarette smoke on their faces.
Despite the activists attempts to appease the situation, some men were forcing the activists to repeat verses from the Quran while publicly shaming them. When the activists were preparing to leave, men in the crowd smashed their stand, followed them as they were trying to move away and kicked them on the ground. The event stand was set on fire while the activists were being beaten, claims Bishkek Feminist SQ. After minutes of physical abuse, two of the activists managed to escape and approach police officers, but their request for protection went to deaf ears. They eventually sought refuge at a local district court building after being chased by an angry crowd following them. Despite their pleas for help from the court’s staff, they were met with hostility by some of the staff who demanded they leave the building. Even though police eventually arrived at the scene and assisted the activists to get out safely, they “failed to provide adequate order among the crowd and did not take immediate actions to arrest the instigators and perpetrators,” writes Bishkek Feminist SQ.
This is not the first time that nationalist and religious rhetoric has been used to instigate violence against human rights activists in Kyrgyzstan. In recent months, especially following the release of a Human Rights Watch report on police abuse of gay and bisexual men in Kyrgyzstan, religious and nationalist groups have repeatedly called for violence against the LGBT community in the country. On January 30, Kyrgyzstan’s then acting grand Mufti issued a Fatwa against same-sex relations, calling on Kyrgyz authorities “to pay special attention to the activities of some public organizations that disseminate social discord while using humanistic ideas.” This move sparked a vocal debate in social media forums where many called for violence against openly gay community members. In addition, a new nationalist movement, Kalys, has staged a series of protests following the report’s release, calling for the adoption for an anti-gay propaganda law. According to Eurasianet.org, Kalys’ leader Jenishbek Moldokmatov “criticized HRW indirectly” and condemned the LGBT community for “screaming” about police abuse. Moldokmatov also burned a photo of Ilya Lukash, an ethnic Ukrainian blogger living in Bishkek, whom he labeled as a “gay activist” and accused him of attempting to foment a “Ukraine-style revolution in the country.”
As many analysts observe the rise of nationalism and discuss the likelihood of increasing Islamic influence in Kyrgyzstan, local human rights defenders are facing a strong nationalist and religious backlash as a result of Kyrgyzstan's aspirations to reclaim its national identity after decades of Soviet rule and respond to a Western push for democratic reforms, where at the center-stage are causes involving women, sexuality and ethnic identity. “These religious entities are influential, but there aren’t just Muslims living here in Kyrgyzstan. These statements can create negative public opinion, they bring violence and cause conflict,” says Dastan, a human rights activist from Bishkek.
By Jacob Zenn (the 05305/2014 of the CACI Analyst)
In 2014, U.S. troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, despite that the Taliban and allied Central Asian Islamist militant groups, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), remain strong in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Complicating the security landscape in Eurasia, since 2011 Syria has become a front where hundreds of Central Asian Islamist militants are fighting. If Central Asians in Syria and Afghanistan carry out their threats to launch attacks against the secular countries of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan may emerge as a safe haven, if not also a target, for attacks.
By Arslan Sabyrbekov (the 03/05/2014 of the CACI Analyst)
On February 27, a special roundtable entitled “Ukrainian scenario in Kyrgyzstan” took place in Bishkek. The participants included government representatives as well as civil society activists and opposition politicians, who expressed their diverging views on the possibility of a “Kyrgyz Euromaidan” in the spring, usually cited as the season of great political turmoil in Kyrgyzstan.
The events in Ukraine are under close scrutiny in Kyrgyzstan and have become a source of public debate. Local experts and politicians are keen to draw parallels between the two countries that to some extent have similar recent political histories. According to opposition MP and leader of the recently created United Opposition Movement Ravshan Jeenbekov, anticipations of a repeated Ukrainian scenario in Kyrgyzstan are not groundless. “Ukraine’s Yanukovych and Kyrgyzstan’s Atambayev have seized power in their own hands and presidential institutions are in both cases unaccountable to anyone but the Kremlin, which exercises full political and economic control over the countries, pressuring them to join the Customs Union,” Jeenbekov stated during the roundtable. An opposition MP proceeded by stating that “Yanukovych came to power in Ukraine when the country had a semi-presidential system and turned it into a strong presidential one and Kyrgyzstan’s President Atambayev came to power with the same political system and within two years managed to turn the country into an authoritarian state.”
Another participant of the round table, Kyrgyzstan’s Vice Prime Minister for Law Enforcement, Security and Border related issues Tokon Mamytov called on the MP to refrain from drawing direct parallels between the two presidents. According to him, Kyrgyzstan’s President Atambayev did not concentrate power to himself and his regime cannot be described as authoritarian. He proceeded by stating that “As a Vice-Prime Minister, I am not as accountable to the President or the Prime Minister as I am to the Kyrgyz Parliament. Ukraine’s President Yanukovych made the same mistakes as our previously ousted two presidents did, namely their family members de facto controlled the country’s financial resources and had a direct influence over the country’s political course.” Indeed, the Kyrgyz public is not aware of Atambayev’s family members and their occupations, which was previously the case with the two ex-Presidents. This, in turn, does not leave much room for opposition politicians to accuse the President of establishing family based rule.
During the course of the roundtable, Sergei Ponomarev, advisor to the Kyrgyz Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiev stated that a Ukrainian scenario will not take place in Kyrgyzstan under normal circumstances, arguing that the leaders of the recently formed United Opposition Movement are interested in taking power by organizing the same social turbulence as in Ukraine and called an opposition MP Ravshan Jeenbekov “an instrument of external powers in big politics,” citing his recent visit and participation in the Ukrainian Euromaidan. In interviews to local sources of mass media, Jeenbekov, the new face of the Kyrgyz opposition, confirmed his visit to Kiev and his meetings with then Ukrainian opposition politicians, whom he called “partners and friends.” An MP dismissed the claim that his movement had any plans or willingness to destabilize the socio-political situation in Kyrgyzstan and repeating the Euromaidan events in Bishkek and called on the country’s president to start a dialogue with them to discuss all the gaps in the country’s current political and economic direction and come up with joint decisions. The Kyrgyz opposition asserts that dialogue can take place with the President only due to their firm belief that the country’s executive as well as the legislative are under his direct control.
Kyrgyz political analyst Marat Kazakpaev believes that before making parallels between the two countries, it is necessary to analyze the internal and external factors in the region and in the global arena that affected these processes and gave rise to the events occurring in Ukraine. Kazakpaev concluded that Kyrgyzstan is one step ahead of Ukraine since the country underwent its second revolution since independence already in 2010.
Euromaidan is foremost a value-oriented wave of citizens’ uprisings, calling for democratic values and integration with Europe. Kyrgyzstan, due to its geographical location is not in a position to seek European integration but this of course does not exclude the possibility of mass movements in the country in response to a deteriorating socioeconomic situation and a recently created united opposition movement to mobilize the masses. The country’s leadership has publicly announced the creation of a new special division regiment, which in the words of the Minister for Internal Affairs “has the primary task of managing public order in accordance with the principles of democratic policing and exists in almost all the neighboring states.” Experts have already started comparing the new Division with Ukraine’s “Berkut,” which has brutally used force against the demonstrators in Euromaidan and perceive it as preparations by the country’s leadership for possible mass demonstrations in the spring.
Regarding the current situation in the Crimea, the Kyrgyz political leadership as well as analysts did not make any official statements or comments.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.