WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 481 Part 1, February 6, 2007

POLITICAL DIVORCE IN KYRGYZSTAN  The difficult relationship between the 
president and his prime minister breaks down after parliament refuses to let 
Felix Kulov come back as premier.  By Cholpon Orozobekova in Bishkek

are missing out on an education as “tradition” dictates they don’t need it.  By 
Anora Sarkorova and Aslibegim Manzarshoeva in Dushanbe


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The difficult relationship between the president and his prime minister breaks 
down after parliament refuses to let Felix Kulov come back as premier.

By Cholpon Orozobekova in Bishkek

The end of Felix Kulov’s career as prime minister has broken up an alliance 
with President Kurmanbek Bakiev that until now seemed to lie at the heart of 
Kyrgyzstan’s political set-up. 

Kulov resigned with his entire cabinet on December 19, but stayed on in a 
caretaker capacity. Many believed he would automatically be confirmed in office 
again when Bakiev put his name forward to parliament on January 18, but 
deputies rejected him. 

The president tried again on January 25, but the legislators held out. Many of 
them had been angered by Kulov’s resignation, which they saw as a tactic to 
force a dissolution of parliament and fresh elections. 

A new constitution approved in early November after a week-long confrontation 
between the Bakiev administration and opposition demonstrators required that 
any new cabinet had to be formed by the majority party. Since this would only 
work if 50 per cent of parliament was elected by proportional representation as 
stipulated in the new constitution, and the current body is entirely based on 
first-past-the-post constituency ballots, a parliamentary election would have 
to take place before a government could be selected.

Bakiev got round this apparent impasse by revising the constitution again, 
winning back rights to propose a prime minister in a new draft which went 
through parliament on December 30. He then used this right to nominate Kulov - 
but the tactic failed. 

After parliament rejected Kulov for the second time, Bakiev appeared to give up 
the fight and offered instead another name – the relatively unknown Azim 
Isabekov, who was acting minister of agriculture, water resources and 
processing industries. Isabekov, who was approved by a huge majority in 
parliament on January 29, is seen as less likely than his predecessor to rub 
parliament up the wrong way.

The removal of Kulov as the country’s second most powerful politician 
effectively ends the “tandem”, the alliance Bakiev forged with him to secure 
victory in the July 2005 presidential election. At the time, Kulov was seen as 
his main rival, and the deal helped neutralise a confrontation that would have 
been damaging amid the political turbulence that followed the March 2005 
revolution in which Askar Akaev was ousted as president. 

In addition, in a country where the north-south divide is seen as an important 
and potentially explosive factor in politics, Kulov brought a northern 
constituency with him which was important to Bakiev and his allies, whose 
stronghold was in their home region of southern Kyrgyzstan. 

Kulov has refrained from commenting on his departure, although the Agym 
newspaper quoted him as saying bitterly, “What can I say about someone who 
didn’t keep his word?”

He seems to have bet on being re-appointed easily, believing that Bakiev could 
not afford to break up the “tandem” and would do anything to secure 
parliament’s agreement. After the first rejection, Kulov told reporters, “The 
president has promised that he will put me forward again and again until I get 

Bakiev’s press secretary Nurlan Shakiev said that even when the president 
announced he was nominating someone else to be prime minister, Kulov asked him 
to make one more attempt. 

“Kulov was loyal to the tandem to the very end, and he naively believed that 
Bakiev would be just as loyal to him,” Kubatbek Baibolov, a member of 
parliament, commented to IWPR.

Political analyst Orozbek Moldaliev thinks the president let his ally down. 
“Kulov is an experienced politician, but he didn’t expect to be treated like 
this,” he said. “The presidential administration did not mount a [pro-Kulov] 
campaign. The president looked on unconcernedly, and the deputies realised he 
had no need of Kulov.”

Bakyt Beshimov, co-chairman of the Union of Democratic Forces party, saw the 
warning signs when Bakiev sent along relatively minor figure to support Kulov’s 
nomination in parliament. 

“This is proof that the tandem was not strong, and that these two leaders 
mistrusted one another from the outset,” he said. “If the president had come 
himself and asked the deputies to vote for [Kulov], it would have been a 
different story.”

Is this the end of the tandem – and does Bakiev believe he can dispense with 
Kulov? Several politicians interviewed by IWPR believe the answer is yes on 
both counts. 

“Of course a strong figure like Kulov was a stabilising factor and he added 
weight to the government,” said Naken Kasiev, who heads the Elet party. “But 
then again, Bakiev wins as a result, because now the prime minister will be 
someone who does the president’s bidding. No one will oppose the president now.”

As prime minister, Kulov riled legislators with some of the policies he 
espoused, by his perceived failure to make progress in other areas, and 
crucially, for not standing up to Bakiev, with whom parliament has had a 
strained relationship all along. 

Parliamentarian Dooronbek Sadyrbaev said Kulov effectively admitted defeat as 
head of the government by pressing for Kyrgyzstan to join the Heavy Indebted 
Poor Countries, HIPC, initiative, a debt reduction scheme run by the World Bank 
and International Monetary Fund. Although Kyrgyzstan has now applied to enter 
the programme, the move has incurred popular hostility since many people are 
unhappy at being equated with badly-run and impoverished third-world countries.

“A person does not have the right to be prime minister if he sees HIPC as the 
only way out of crisis. His strong stance on HIPC had a negative effect on his 
career as prime minister,” said Sadyrbaev.

Kulov then annoyed the opposition when he aligned himself firmly with President 
Bakiev during the November protests. His strong support – which belied the 
previously rocky nature of the relationship - undoubtedly helped Bakiev ride 
out this difficult period. 

Asiya Sasykbaeva, leader of the non-government group Interbilim, was one of 
those who felt disappointed. “The opposition was waiting for him at the 
November rallies - we thought he would come and speak openly. We knew that his 
hands were tied, that he had no power to operate, and that he disagreed with 
Bakiev’s policies. But at this point it became clear that he was covering for 
Bakiev’s mistakes. He failed to become a strong leader, and simply supported 
his ‘tandem’ partner blindly.” 

Kulov’s resignation in December was the last straw, after which parliament was 
unlikely to willingly have him back as prime minister. 

The former prime minister is a survivor who started out as a policeman and rose 
to become deputy interior minister by the late Soviet period. Under President 
Akaev, he was minister of internal affairs and, in 1992-93, vice-president of 

At the end of the Nineties he was mayor of Bishkek, but after founding the 
Arnamys party, whose name means “dignity”, he was arrested and convicted on 
corruption charges that many felt were brought against him to eliminate him as 
a potential challenger to Akaev. He was only released during the March 2005 

Now he faces the task of carving out a niche for himself, standing apart from 
both the Bakiev administration and the opposition. 

President Bakiev has offered him other posts, but many analysts say he will 
turn these down and withdraw from government, to concentrate on building 
Arnamys into a heavyweight political force. 

Cholpon Orozobekova is a correspondent for Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of 


Increasing numbers of girls are missing out on an education as “tradition” 
dictates they don’t need it.

By Anora Sarkorova and Aslibegim Manzarshoeva in Dushanbe

Economic problems and the eroding value of education for women have left 
increasing numbers of girls in Tajikistan illiterate with no employment 
opportunities outside the home. 

"Tajik society with its traditional beliefs risks a massive decline in 
intellectual development in the near future,” warns political analyst 
Manuchehra Jumakhonova. 

“The Tajik government and international non-government groups need to think 
about this problem seriously, from both the economic and social perspectives."

According to Tajik education ministry figures, the number of girls aged 16 to 
17 attending the final two school years has dropped by 12 per cent since 1991, 
and the figure for the preceding four years has also fallen. 

Education minister Abdujabbor Rahmonov, however, argues that overall, 98 per 
cent of girls do go to school.

Although the government makes efforts to improve the status of women, it stops 
short of intervening in the way families deal with their daughters.

In the Soviet period, girls were required to attend school, and women were 
encouraged to go on to higher education and work outside the home. However, 
since 1991, poverty, high unemployment, and the return of older social values 
have increased the pressure on women to marry as early as possible, especially 
in rural communities.

Traditionally, a girl’s father looks after her until she gets married, when the 
responsibility passes to her husband. Once she has left the family home, her 
parents may be very reluctant to take her back if she has problems with her 

One reason for keeping girls out of school is that educated women are seen by 
some as unattractive marriage material – they are less likely to assume the 
submissive role they are expected to assume towards the husband’s entire family.

When Sarvinoz, now 19, from the village of Nimich in the Rasht valley in 
Tajikistan’s eastern mountains, got married three years ago her new family was 
pleased that she had never been to school. 

However, her lack of education is now something of a disadvantage, since her 
husband has left her for another woman, and her only chance of gaining 
financial security is to remarry. 

“I don't know what will happen now. I can only marry a widower or someone who 
has been married before," she said. “My parents told me I didn't need to study, 
and that the most important thing for a girl is to marry well and at the right 
time. All I can do is tidy the house and cook. I can’t even sew.”

Although most parents who take their daughters out of school plead poverty, and 
this is undoubtedly a factor, the fact that sons from similar backgrounds are 
allowed to continue on to higher education shows the differing expectations 
attached to each sex. 

The influence of Islam has strengthened since the end of Soviet rule, and many 
local clerics perpetuate the traditional view that women’s place is in the 

At a mosque on the outskirts of the capital Dushanbe, a cleric leading Friday 
prayers calls on worshippers to stop their daughters going to school, warning 
that they will be depraved by teachers who force them to remove headscarves and 
wear European-style clothing. In Tajikistan, women commonly wear traditional 
costume including a headscarf, which is not necessarily a symbol of 
particularly strong faith.

Zamon Alifbekov, an advisor to the education minister, told IWPR that in fact 
schools allow pupils to wear whatever they want, including head coverings. “We 
don't force anyone to wear any [particular] thing,” he said.

Negmatullo Suhbatov, rector of the Islamic University in Dushanbe, was 
dismissive of clerics who try to bar women from education.

“Semi-literate mullahs who only know the Arabic alphabet and have studied a few 
[of the religion’s] tenets say that women shouldn’t have an education and 
should merely serve their husbands,”he said. “Contrary to the popular view, 
Islam in fact accords a high position to women.”

He concluded, “The Islamic scholars say teach a man and you educate one person, 
but teach a woman and you educate a nation.” 

But regardless of how people view women’s moral right to education, some 
parents see it as a pointless and unnecessary luxury since they believe their 
daughters will go straight from their home to the husband’s and will never have 
to seek formal employment. 

The Rasht valley, where Sarvinoz lives, is an underdeveloped part of the 
country, and suffered badly in the 1992-97 civil war as a stronghold of the 
opposition Islamic forces. This is the kind of place where girls are commonly 
discouraged from going to school – much more so than in urban areas, and even 
some other rural areas such as Badakhshan where educated women enjoy higher 

Last year teachers in the Rasht valley started compiling lists to determine 
exactly how many children were dropping out of school, and why. There are far 
fewer girls than boys, especially in the higher years. 

In the valley, schoolteacher Nigina has come up with a scheme to encourage 
parents to let girls attend school. She goes from house to house promising they 
will be taught sewing, among other things. “We tell them there are sewing 
machines in school, and then they aren’t opposed to it,” she said.

Since the expectation in rural areas is that women will be married by the age 
of 20, many decide not to complete a university course in case that reduces 
their chances. 

“All the girls my age got married when they were 17 or 18, but I was 20 and 
still studying,” said Zamira Nazirova, now 22. “I was ashamed when people would 
come round asking when I’d finally get married. 

“I decided to get married first, and then continue my studies. The way it 
turned out, my husband preferred me to stay and study at home - but not go 

The Tajik government tries to encourage women to go on to higher education, and 
for example has a scheme where nearly 500 female students were enrolled in 
universities this academic year, even though they lacked the qualifications 
required for entrance. 

But going to university involves the high cost of living in a city, and job 
prospects afterwards are particularly uncertain for women. 

Mavluda, 19, comes from Vahdat, 30 kilometres from Dushanbe, and would like to 
attend university - but cannot afford the fees or living costs. 

“If you don’t have money they won't accept you anywhere," she said. 

Her parents are now looking out for a likely husband.

The rapid fall in female educational attainment in Tajikistan is affecting the 
labour market, especially the professions. Kimatgul Aliberdieva, a gender 
expert in Dushanbe, warned, "We should be raising the alarm now, because in 20 
or 30 years’ time there won’t be any women left at all in the professions - 
law, engineering and teaching – where men dominate even now."

Anora Sarkorova is a BBC correspondent and Asilbegim Manzarshoeva an IWPR 
contributor, both in Dushanbe.

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