WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 465, September 28, 2006
KYRGYZ OPPOSITION FAILS TO SEIZE INITIATIVE A new round of protests is
promised at the end of October, but some doubt the opposition has the willpower
needed to take on the president. By Taalaibek Amanov in Bishkek
ANGER AT "BIASED" COVERAGE OF KYRGYZ POLITICAL SCANDAL State television
reporting of a political dirty tricks campaign proves nothing has changed since
the Akaev era, says the opposition. By Aziza Turdueva in Bishkek
UNEMPLOYMENT DRIVES TURKMEN TO TURKEY In a country where jobs are scarce, the
possibility of well-paid work is tempting many Turkmen abroad. By IWPR staff
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KYRGYZ OPPOSITION FAILS TO SEIZE INITIATIVE
A new round of protests is promised at the end of October, but some doubt the
opposition has the willpower needed to take on the president.
By Taalaibek Amanov in Bishkek
Opposition parties in Kyrgyzstan are planning to seek the resignation of the
country's president and prime minister - but not quite yet. A recent gathering
offered them a chance to deal a blow to the authorities as they struggled to
cope with a major political scandal, yet little came of the meeting, and it is
now unclear whether the government's opponents are capable of much more than
The September 17 "kurultai", or popular assembly, should have had everything
going for it. It brought together major political parties - the Movement for
Reforms, MfR, an umbrella group encompassing most opposition parties, and the
Asaba party of Azimbek Beknazarov, a high-profile member of parliament.
There was a lot to complain about - the failure of President Kurmanbek Bakiev
to deliver the reforms demanded at opposition rallies earlier this year, and a
fresh political row about Omurbek Tekebaev, the MfR's leader and until February
2006, the speaker of parliament.
Tekebaev was arrested at Warsaw airport on September 6 when more than half a
kilogramme of heroin was found in his luggage. However, he was quickly released
after a Polish court ruled that he was the victim of a dirty tricks campaign.
Kyrgyzstan's parliament began a vigorous investigation of the matter, and came
up with evidence implicating the security service or SNB in planting the drugs.
Following the revelations, the president was forced to sack his brother Janysh
Bakiev as deputy head of the SNB; the agency's head Busurmankul Tabaldiev
resigned shortly afterwards.
Finally, organisers chose a venue that was full of symbolism. The village of
Bozpiek is located in the southern district of Aksy, where in 2002, police
firing live rounds caused the deaths of six people engaged in peaceful
protests, sparking months of demonstrations against the government of President
Aksy is Beknazarov's power-base, and the demonstrators were seeking his release
after the Akaev regime jailed him. Bakiev, though he later joined the
opposition and took part in the March 2005 revolution that ousted Akaev, was
prime minister at the time and thus, according to his critics, to some extent
accountable for the violence.
The kurultai got off to a good start, according to Dooronbek Sadyrbaev, a
member of parliament who attended. "There were many hard-hitting, critical
speeches about the country's present leaders. Speaker after speaker demanded
the resignation of the Bakiev-Kulov 'tandem'," he said, referring to the
alliance between the president and his prime minister, Felix Kulov.
The meeting ended with a six-point list of demands to the Bakiev government,
calling for a new constitution and other reforms, and urging the president to
dismiss other family members from his administration. Two of his brothers serve
as Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Germany and counsellor at its Beijing embassy.
The statement warned that if these demands were not met, opposition parties
would seek the resignations of both Bakiev and Kulov. A deadline of October 24
was set, coinciding with the end of Ramadhan, the holy month in which Muslims
fast and strive for restraint and forgiveness.
After staging protest rallies in the spring, the opposition suspended its
protests over the summer, and the decision to postpone action for another month
raises questions about whether the anti-Bakiev movement has lost momentum.
Although the statement also called for the prosecution of those found to have
ordered the Tekebaev incident, some analysts say opposition politicians have
passed up a golden opportunity to target the president.
"If nothing happens at the end of October, another demand will be heard - for
Bakiev and Kulov to resign. It may take a month or even years, but people will
insist on them resigning," said Temir Sariev, a member of parliament and
"There are some people who say that we're constantly postponing matters and
that we don't want the situation to develop in the way they want, using force.
[But if we did that], the authorities would use force as well and we'd plunge
the country into chaos."
Another deputy, Melis Eshimkanov, took a similar view, saying, "We are
postponing the deadline... because of our responsibility to avoid civil war and
conflict. We are giving the regime another chance... we are saying, 'Bakiev,
sort things out'."
"After Orozo Ait [Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadhan], the opposition will take
very serious actions, tougher and more practical. We see the political struggle
growing more intense then. So now we are giving the people and ourselves a
breather, and are giving the president carte blanche to meet our demands."
This threat of future action does not convince the political analysts
interviewed by IWPR.
Tamerlan Ibraimov, for example, believes that come November, the opposition
will be more vocal, but he says this will not force the Kyrgyz leadership to
resign, and will merely drive his opponents to take up more radical positions.
Valentin Bogatyrev, deputy director of Vostok, a Central Asian think-tank,
believes that Bakiev is in fact making tentative concessions, even if the
opposition prefers not to notice them.
"The opposition feels it should constantly pressure the government, and that
the important issues have not been tackled," he told IWPR. "But it seems to me
that the Bakiev administration is far from inactive. For example, has he
reacted to the kurultai by sending constitutional drafts to parliament, and if
the latter responds appropriately and realises that compromise does not mean
weakness or retreat, but can bring progress toward reform, then everything will
be fine. Usually the problem is that the administration does not want a
compromise, but that is not the case at the moment."
Bogatyrev pointed to what he sees as a lack of real drive among opposition
members, "The problems with this kurultai and the way the [Tekebaev] scandal
has developed indicate that the opposition has no drive. It's hard to pinpoint
exactly what it is they are missing - money, ideas or leaders capable of
fighting for their views. But what is clear is that they've been unable to make
intelligent use of a gift like this scandal."
That criticism may not be entirely fair, though. In the Tekebaev affair, the
Kyrgyz parliament showed itself resolute and uncompromising in pursuing the
truth. On September 22, it kept up the momentum by declaring the Bakiev-Kulov
"tandem" to be unconstitutional in that there is no provision for prime
ministers to be appointed on the basis of a pre-election deal with the
president. It urged Bakiev to form a new cabinet, to embark on constitutional
reform post haste, and to place the SNB firmly under government control.
Taalaibek Amanov is the pseudonym of an independent journalist in Bishkek.
ANGER AT "BIASED" COVERAGE OF KYRGYZ POLITICAL SCANDAL
State television reporting of a political dirty tricks campaign proves nothing
has changed since the Akaev era, says the opposition.
By Aziza Turdueva in Bishkek
Leading members of parliament in Kyrgyzstan and civil society activists have
criticised state television's coverage of an apparent dirty tricks campaign
against opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev, and renewed their calls for the
channel to be removed from government control.
Tekebaev, a former speaker of parliament who resigned earlier this year after
falling out publicly with President Kurmanbek Bakiev, was jailed in Poland on
September 6 when airport border guards discovered heroin in his luggage. He was
soon released after a Warsaw court dropped all charges.
President Bakiev was forced to sack his own brother Janysh as deputy head of
the National Security Service, SNB, after parliament got hold of a document
alleging he had ordered the drugs to be planted.
Not surprisingly, the incident has caused a storm of controversy in Kyrgyzstan
and has been widely discussed in parliament and by the general public, with
furious speculation about who is to blame and whether the government was
Government critics, however, say this lively discussion has been far from
evident in the output of the State Television and Radio Corporation, which
consigned coverage of a key parliamentary debate on the incident to a
late-night slot on its television channel KTR.
Deputy Melis Eshimkanov described the coverage as one-sided, and said KTR
showed biased programmes supporting the authorities and the Bakiev family.
These include sympathetic interviews with Janysh Bakiev. Programmes about
Tekebaev have been unflattering, said Eshimkanov.
Another deputy, Kanybek Imanaliev, accuses KTR of "running an aggressive
campaign against members of parliament".
"I have recently seen a programme in which people were saying that deputy
Dooronbek Sadyrbaev should be killed, [former prosecutor general] Azimbek
Beknazarov should be jailed, and that Tekebaev himself was behind the
provocative incident against him," said Imanaliev.
KTR was traditionally a mouthpiece for the ruling regime in Kyrgyzstan and
under former president Askar Akaev was used as ideological weapon against the
Hopes that this would all change were high after the March 2005 revolution,
when opposition forces forced Akaev from power and put Bakiev in power.
The new president pledged to transform the state broadcaster into a public
service company, meaning that it would become like western TV and radio
stations that receive state funding but are run by independent management and
insulated from political influence.
So far there has been little progress. On September 6, Bakiev rejected a law
passed by parliament that providing for the plan to create a public television
and radio service, with a watchdog board whose members would be appointed in
equal numbers by the president, parliament and civil society groups.
The president said he vetoed the bill because it would require a major outlay
of money that the country could ill afford. But his decision drew harsh
criticism and accusations that he is reneging on his election promises.
"This will create obstacles for the development of the media sector," said
Elvira Sarieva, the Kyrgyzstan director of the media development group
Sadyrbaev doubts that Bakiev rejected the draft law for purely financial
reasons, suggesting that he likes having control over state TV. "If KTR is
transformed into public television, the authorities will be deprived of a major
lever of influence," said Sadyrbaev
Bakiev denied the allegations that KTR is simply a government mouthpiece,
telling parliament on September 13 that there have been changes at the station.
"Kyyaz Moldokasymov was appointed to head the channel, a person who was
previously in charge of the Kyrgyz branch of Radio Liberty," he said.
Moldokasymov, too, insisted that the station "is no longer the personal
television channel of one family, as it was under ex-president Akaev, but
serves the people instead".
He also denied the accusations of biased coverage of the Tekebaev affair. "We
do not have one-sided broadcasts," he said. "The incident concerning Tekebaev
has been covered not one-dimensionally, but objectively. The channel has
broadcast different opinions. There were many more statements in support of
Tekebaev and denigrating the authorities [than those made against him]."
Moldokasymov said opposition members were more than welcome to appear on KTR.
"Many people continue to criticise the state channel out of force of habit,
although we have long provided coverage of different opinions on any issue," he
The head of the presidential press service Dosaly Esenaliev, who held the same
job under Akaev, echoed that view. He said his office no longer told KTR which
stories to cover, as was standard practice under the previous regime.
It is the idea of a watchdog to oversee a public-service broadcaster that
concerns Moldokasymov's deputy, Beishenbek Bekeshov.
"The state channel belongs to the people and to the state, so it should be
controlled by those who have the right to speak on behalf of the people - the
president and parliament," he said.
Adakhan Madumarov, the Kyrgyz secretary of state, says that having a state-run
channel is no bad thing. "There are independent television companies of every
kind in this country. In these circumstances, we must not lose the state
channel," he said.
The state TV station Osh-3000, broadcasting in southern Kyrgyzstan, was made
into a public broadcaster last year, but critics say the change is illusory
since the president appoints the supervisory board that oversees the editorial
A former editor of the state-run Kyrgyz Tuusu newspaper, Bakyt Orunbekov, sees
the hand of government in this recent turn of events.
"This demonstrates yet again that the government is not interested in reforming
either the state television channel or the printed media," he told IWPR.
Aziza Turdueva is a correspondent for Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of
RFE/RL in Bishkek.
UNEMPLOYMENT DRIVES TURKMEN TO TURKEY
In a country where jobs are scarce, the possibility of well-paid work is
tempting many Turkmen abroad.
By IWPR staff in London
Turkmen workers are flocking to Turkey to escape chronic unemployment and
poverty at home.
Some say the long and expensive trip is worthwhile, while others complain of
abuse and slave-like treatment at the hands of their Turkish employers.
Gulnara Batyrova, who comes from Makhtumkuli in the country's western Balkan
region. was one of the lucky ones. She worked for over a year as a private
nurse for a family in Istanbul, getting paid 800 US dollars per month.
Batyrova is now back home, but plans to return to Turkey and find work as a
nanny. "How can I earn so much money in my home country?" she asked.
Many Turkmen live on little more than two dollars per day in a country where
unemployment has been estimated at 50-70 per cent, though no official
Other migrant workers from Central Asia, mostly Tajiks and Uzbeks, head to
Russia and Kazakstan. For the Turkmen, however, Turkey is the top choice as a
visa is easier to obtain, there are more direct flights, and jobs there are
It is hardly surprising, then, that people are flocking to illegal travel
agencies that organise tourist visas for would-be economic migrants. Many are
willing to sell everything they own in order to make the trip to Turkey.
"We sold our car, carpets and crockery. We spent all our money to send my
husband to Istanbul. My three children and I stayed home in Turkmenistan to
wait for his salary," said Jennet Muradova, an unemployed mother of three small
children from the eastern Lebap region.
Galima Narbaeva tells similar story. When her husband was fired from his job as
a caretaker, the family decided Turkey was the best option. "We have a very
large family, and everyone pitched in and gathered the money for him to go to
Istanbul," she said.
Most of the migrants are working in Turkey illegally, which exposes them to
numerous risks including mistreatment at the hands of employers, and possible
Narbaeva's husband Juma, a driver by profession, got a job on a factory
building site in Istanbul alongside other workers from around the world. Juma
said he was fed poorly and his passport was taken away. He managed to steal it
back because his boss was absent-minded, but after a month-long stint of hard
physical labour left without any pay.
"There are hundreds of thousands of people like me," said Juma, who had a
return ticket so was at least able to come home. "It's real slavery. I can't
appeal for a compensation or protect my interests, because I went there
illegally. There's nowhere for us to appeal here either, because the law does
not protect our rights in these cases."
Human rights activists say that people in Turkmenistan should be made aware of
the harsh realities of working illegally, and those who end up in trouble
should be offered help.
But that seems unlikely. A support programme for labour migrants proposed two
years ago by the International Organisation for Migration's Ashgabat office was
rejected by the government.
In the eyes of the authorities, illegal migrants like Juma simply do not exist.
At a roundtable meeting to discuss the issue, a representative from the
interior ministry said there was no need to protect illegal migrants because
they were all prostitutes or pimps and should instead be prosecuted.
The government's reluctance to acknowledge the problem is understandable.
President Saparmurat Niazov has declared a Golden Age for his people, and the
state-controlled media carry glowing reports of new factories opening, creating
lots of jobs. Acknowledging the existence of illegal migrants would undermine
The reality is that work is thin on the ground. Factories stand idle for most
of the year and workers go unpaid because of the lack of raw materials.
The capital provides most of the job opportunities, but there are only so many
to go around.
"There is some sort of work in Ashgabat," said Begli Gurbanov, from the Balkan
region. "But what can you do in the regions? There is no work there at all."
(All names in this article have been changed for safety reasons)
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