KYRGYZ ELECTION: GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS  In the run-up to parliamentary 
polls, the president’s men are pulling out all the stops to make sure they get 
the result they want.  By IWPR staff in Bishkek

COUNTING THE KYRGYZ MIGRANT VOTE  As the election looms, it remains unclear how 
expatriates’ votes will be counted.  By Gulnara Mambetalieva in Bishkek

OPPOSITION CLAIMS ELECTION BIAS  As parties and NGOs accuse the electoral 
commission of stacking the decks in favour of the president’s party, there are 
warnings of protests ahead.  By Aziza Amirova in Bishkek

voters distinctive policies may result in a low turnout in the weekend 
parliamentary election.  By Yryskeldi Kadykeev in Bishkek

taking no chances as he prepares to secure another mandate.  IWPR staff in 
Central Asia

dishes have to go because they are an eyesore, but the real aim may be to cut 
off people from information from outside.  By IWPR staff in Bishkek


affecting Kyrgyz villagers blamed on overzealous frontier guards and on 
Kyrgyzstan’s failure to ratify a demarcation agreement.  By Diana Iskakova in 


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In the run-up to parliamentary polls, the president’s men are pulling out all 
the stops to make sure they get the result they want.

By IWPR staff in Bishkek

>From her well-hidden office in a Bishkek tower block, with not even a sign on 
>the door, Tolekan Ismailova is gearing up for another battle.

Veteran human rights activist Ismailova and her colleagues from the Citizens 
Against Corruption group are determined to embarrass the Kyrgyz authorities 
over what she describes as blatant moves to fix the outcome of the December 16 
parliamentary election.

Days before the vote, most people appear resigned to an inevitable landslide 
victory by Ak Jol, the political vehicle that President Kurmanbek Bakiev set up 
on October 15, a few days before his revised constitution was passed by a 
referendum and he called a snap election.

According to a Citizens Against Corruption statement, “The Central Electoral 
Commission and the courts have been using unlawful methods to restrict 
political parties from participating in the parliamentary elections. 

“Several parties that had real support from the electorate and a clear chance 
of getting into parliament have been dismissed from the race,” the statement 

Only 12 of the 50 parties that applied to stand in the election have been 
allowed to do so by the Central Election Commission, CEC.

“We are seeing major violations [of election legislation],” said Ismailova 
angrily. “In schools, both children and teachers are being told, ‘You will join 
Ak Jol because it’s the president’s party.’”

She alleges that the CEC, tasked with impartial supervision of the poll, merely 
reflects official policy - which is to marginalise all serious political rivals 
to Ak Jol, leaving the field free for it and a few select allies.

Ismailova says the CEC’s decision to ban the Zamandash party from the race, and 
also to expel the young and charismatic Social Democratic candidate, Edil 
Baisalov, offer proof of the commission’s susceptibility to what people term 
“administrative resources”.

This code word, understood by everyone, refers to the web of patronage, 
coercion and manpower the incumbent authorities can draw on to secure the 
desired outcome of elections.

“Zamandash was barred because it was not corrupt, so they barred it on a 
technicality,” said Ismailova on. “The government was afraid because it had 
good people in it; because they were fresh and new.”

She dismisses President Bakiev with a look of scorn. “If he was 33 and had 
travelled abroad, that would be one thing, but he’s a classic bureaucrat, a 
real part of the old ‘nomenklatura’,” she said. 

“But he moves fast,” she conceded. “He’s gathering a lot of money and 

Bakiev came to power as a result of mass street protests in March 2005, 
prompted by rigged parliamentary elections that forced the then president Askar 
Akaev to flee. 

During the two years that Bakiev has been president, he has been under pressure 
from opposition and civil society groups to deliver on a range of reform 

To defuse one of a series of mass anti-government protests, he signed a new 
constitution in November 2006 extending the powers of parliament and curtailing 
his own. But by the end of the year he had regained most of his powers, as 
parliament feared dissolution if it did not comply with the constitutional 

After the Constitutional Court ruled both versions of the document invalid, 
Bakiev proposed a third version in September, which was quickly passed the 
following month in a referendum. The announcement of an early parliamentary 
election followed shortly afterwards. 

The country’s 100 or so parties were given only weeks to prepare to compete 
under the newly introduced proportional electoral system for all parliamentary 
seats. Until now, the main system used has been based on single-mandate 

Charges of election bias are not limited to rights activists like Ismailova. 

While foreign diplomats hold their fire – unwilling, perhaps, to alienate the 
Central Asian state that comes closest to upholding democratic principles – 
many are privately concerned that Kyrgyzstan could go the same way as Kazakstan 
with its one-party parliament.

“It’s very obvious,” said one diplomatic source, referring to the preferential 
treatment Ak Jol gets in the media. “They get 80 per cent of the airtime. They 
are supposed to allow all the parties free airtime but this hasn’t happened.”

“I find it disappointing,” the source added. “If you are going to behave like 
this, don’t do it so openly. It’s almost farcical.” 

A representative of one of the observer groups preparing to monitor the polls 
said he feared the authorities were pre-arranging the election results in a 
somewhat obvious fashion. 

“I’m not sure they’re smart enough to set up a false result more credibly,” he 

“The results are pre-determined,” he added, outlining a scenario in which 
various provinces “compete to outperform on his [Bakiev’s] behalf. Where there 
is no observer presence, you will see people voting 98 per cent for Ak Jol.”

A widespread conviction that people are being asked only to go through the 
motions helps explain the lacklustre atmosphere in the capital only days before 
the ballot. There are few signs on the street of tension, excitement, or even 

Election posters are few and far between, while minimal effort has gone into 
devising slogans for the 12 parties allowed to take part. Most posters for Ak 
Jol merely feature a smiling person above the unimaginative slogan, “Ak jol, 

Turnout is expected to be low, though whether the authorities will be prepared 
to admit this remains to be seen. 

Many observers are concerned about ballot-stuffing, a common practice in past 
elections. The presence of a few hundred foreign monitors provides only partial 
insurance against this, as they will not be able to cover the several thousand 
polling stations.

The day after the October 21 referendum, the OSCE mission head in Bishkek, 
Markus Mueller, lambasted the “high number of irregularities” that had marred 
the poll. 

In a statement, the OSCE said these included "massive ballot-stuffing by 
members of precinct election commissions, use of administrative resources to 
bring people to polling stations, [and] obstruction of domestic observers by 
local authorities and members of election commissions”.

Political observers note that in the weeks before the election, the president 
has made a number of key moves, replacing the governor of the southern Osh 
region and the Kyrgyz education minister with known loyalists and shunting 
aside Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev, who heads the Social Democratic Party. 

With few indications that the election will be entirely free or fair, observers 
already have their eye on the aftermath, wondering whether the opposition will 
sit back or take to the streets.

Tolekan Ismailova is in no doubt that the government will use its fresh mandate 
to clamp down on dissenters. “After the election a lot of people will be 
arrested,” she predicted. 

She says she is not fazed by that prospect, as her family has already suffered 
as a result of her political activities. 

“People will stand up,” she said confidently. “They know this election is their 
only chance to express their views and change something in this country.”


As the election looms, it remains unclear how expatriates’ votes will be 

By Gulnara Mambetalieva in Bishkek

Kyrgyz political parties have expressed fears that a lack of clear guidelines 
for counting the votes cast by migrant workers abroad may lead to conflict 
after the polls. 

In the weekend ballot on December 16, each vote could be of decisive 
importance. This is because besides meeting a national threshold of five per 
cent of the country’s 2.7 million voters, the parties must also gather at least 
0.5 per cent of the vote in each of seven regions and two cities, Osh and 

The Central Electoral Commission, CEC, has ruled that this half per cent is to 
be counted not from the actual number of voters in each region, but from the 
national electoral roll, which works out as at least 13,500 votes in each 
region, regardless of its population. 

It is not clear how these regional allocations will work for the migrant 
workers currently in Russia and Kazakhstan, of whom there are believe to be 
between half a million and a million. 

Temir Sariev, leader of the opposition Ata-Meken party, says the current 
ambiguity concerning migrant votes and their allocation by region is storing up 
trouble, as the threshold could mean some parties that would otherwise be 
eligible will not get into parliament. 

“It is very difficult to calculate which region is to receive the [migrant] 
votes,” said Sariev, explaining that it would be complex and expensive to 
discover where each expatriate voter is now living and where he or she is 
listed as living in Kyrgyzstan. 

Topchubek Turgunaliev, chair of the Erkindik party, describes the confusion 
over migrant votes as “the Achilles heel of the parliamentarian election”. 

Nowhere, he says, has it been officially declared how these votes will be 

The electorate is already wrestling with a novel system of proportional 
representation and party candidate lists that will have its trial run in 
Kyrgyzstan this weekend. 

Most of the 50 parties that declared their intention to run in the snap 
election have already dropped out or have been barred by the CEC, and just 12 
have been admitted to the race. 

The majority have only recently started developing election programmes and 
building a support-base in all nine electoral regions, so the 0.5 per cent 
barrier could pose a formidable obstacle.

This is especially the case in sparsely populated regions such as Talas in 
north-west Kyrgyzstan. The total number of registered voters in Talas is only 
121,000, which means each of the 12 parties needs 11 per cent of that figure to 
get the requisite 13,500 votes needed to get into parliament. 

That is clearly an impossible task for many, not least since many of those 
listed on the regional electoral role are away working abroad, and others will 
simply stay at home. 

Omurbek Sarbagishev, deputy chair of the CEC’s organising committee, said the 
commission had not decided which regions would receive the votes of migrants 
living abroad. 

“This issue will be put to the vote in the CEC; and it’s currently hard to tell 
how members will vote,” Sarbagishev told IWPR. As things now stand, he added, 
“all these votes will be counted in with the Pervomaysky district of Bishkek”. 

However, Asein Isaev, from the foreign ministry department that deals with 
relations with other former Soviet states, said despite the air of ambiguity 
surrounding the migrant vote, he was confident that each polling station abroad 
would in fact record the district from which an individual came.

“Information on the regions from which our citizens abroad come will be entered 
into the voting lists,” Isaev told IWPR. 

Kyrgyzstan nationals abroad have also raised other concerns about the imminent 

Akyl Kuduev, a diaspora leader in the Russian city of Samara, said far too few 
ballots had been allocated for his community, so that only 3,000 out of at 
least 5,000 Kyrgyz nationals who wanted to vote in Samara would be able to do 

“Because of the very short run-up to the election, we were unable to compile a 
full list of voters and obtain the necessary blank ballots,” said Kuduev. “We 
applied to the CEC [for more] but were told there would be no additional ballot 

Kuduev explained that the migrant workers in the area worked in diverse sectors 
– in agriculture, construction, manufacturing and at the bazaars - making it 
difficult to identify them all within the allotted time frame of a few weeks. 

The CEC admits it has released only about 29,000 ballot papers for use abroad, 
a tiny fraction of the number of Kyrgyz citizens known to be living and working 
outside the country. 

Political scientist Toktogul Kakchekeev says it is almost incomprehensible why 
no realistic count has been made of the number of potential voters abroad. 

“No one from the migration and border services, the state statistics committee 
or the interior ministry will tell you the exact number of migrants, because 
they don’t have this information,” complained Kakchekeev. “They don’t have the 

Turgunaliev highlighted another problem – whether the substantial number of 
people who have moved within Kyrgyzstan in search of a better life will be 
counted as residents of their original region or their new one, and whether 
they will be able to vote at all. 

In principle, voters are listed by the place where they are officially 
registered as residents with the authorities. This means that internal migrants 
either have to go back and vote in their original area, or obtain an absentee 
ballot beforehand, entitling them to vote at any polling station of Kyrgyzstan.

“There are tens of thousands of people from the Batken and Naryn regions who 
are now in Osh and Bishkek and who will not really want to go back to their 
villages at their own expense,” said Turgunaliev. “The state doesn’t have the 
money to pay for it, nor do tens of thousands of voters. Therefore, I think 30 
or even 40 per cent of these migrants will be unable to vote.” 

Gulnara Mambetalieva is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.


As parties and NGOs accuse the electoral commission of stacking the decks in 
favour of the president’s party, there are warnings of protests ahead.

By Aziza Amirova in Bishkek

Days before Kyrgyzstan goes to the polls, several parties and non-government 
groups have accused the country’s electoral commission of bias, saying it has 
acted on behalf of the current administration rather than as an impartial 

They have warned that if their complaints are not addressed, mass protests are 
likely either before or immediately after the December 16 ballot. 

In a public statement sent to the Central Election Commission, CEC, on December 
6, the parties said the commission’s conduct, especially as regards registering 
participants, revealed “extreme bias in favour of one participant in the 
election process”. By this, they meant the Ak Jol party, set up last month by 
Kyrgyzstan’s president, Kurmanbek Bakiev. 

The signatories included registered participants in the election such as 
Ata-Meken, Asaba, Ar-Namys and the Social Democrats, as well as parties that 
the CEC has barred from standing, including Rodina and the Greens.

The CEC has granted permission to stand to only 12 of the 50 parties that 

“To our great misfortune, the CEC has become one of the ‘administrative 
resources’ used to eliminate participants in the upcoming election… whom the 
government deems undesirable,” said the statement. 

The parties also said that the commission had “forgotten its direct official 
responsibilities and assumed the role of a punitive body”. 

Last week, the CEC controversially dismissed Edil Baisalov, a leading Social 
Democrat, from the race. His offence was to place a photograph of a blank 
ballot paper on his web blog. Baisalov insisted his aim had been to publicise 
the poor security featuresof the ballot papers. 

Many observers maintained that the CEC acted improperly in this instance, 
saying only the courts - or the party itself – had the authority to exclude a 
candidate from the race. 

Bolobek Sherniazov, from Ata-Meken, one of the parties that signed the 
statement, said the election situation was now so hopeless that protests were 
the only option. 

“The authorities… leave us no choice,” he said. “We are not asking for them to 
campaign for our party, we are simply asking for equal opportunities for all 

Erkin Bulekbaev from the Greens told IWPR that parties were already planning a 
protest against the excessive use of what are called “administrative resources” 
– the power deployed by all branches of government in favour of one party. 

“Our calls are addressed to the president and government not to mess around, 
and to observe the election code and the constitution, because administrative 
resources are being blatantly used in the election in favour of the 
presidential party, Ak Jol,” he complained. 

“We will most likely hold protest actions before the elections.” 

Bulekbaev insisted that unequal conditions for campaigning meant the electorate 
would not have a real choice. 

Azimbek Beknazarov of Asaba told IWPR that public servants like teachers and 
doctors, and many ordinary people in rural areas, faced heavy pressure to vote 
for the pro-presidential party. 

“The administration ought to stop using administrative resources, or we will 
undertake protest actions,” Beknazarov pledged.

Kyrgyzstan has seen a series of anti-government protests in the last couple of 
years, but in the capital Bishkek it has just got harder to stage public 
meetings Under a recent regulation introduced by the mayor of the capital 
Bishkek, protest organisers must notify the mayor’s office of the date of their 
planned rally - and its objectives - at least three days beforehand. 

The lawyer for the municipal authority, Eldarbek Mamyrov, said he had not yet 
received written notification from any opposition parties concerning a protest. 

Damir Lisovsky, a member of the CEC, dismissed the attacks on the commission as 
a political stunt. 

“I can’t rule out the idea that behind their demands, there lies a desire to 
score some extra points, since there is almost no time left before the 
elections,” said Lisovsky. 

“These steps look like PR, with the single aim of making certain parties known 
to people.” 

“Protest actions and calls for boycotts will not affect the election at all. If 
they want to protest, let them.” 

However, media observer Turat Akimov said there was considerable potential for 
major protests after the election. One of the recent concerns that has caused 
widespread anger, he said, was the way the regional vote threshold had been 

Under a ruling issued by the CEC on November 19, in order to win seats in 
parliament, a party must receive 5 per cent of the total electorate of about 
2.7 million people and 0.5 per cent of the same total for each of the seven 
regions and two big cities of Kyrgyzstan. Based on a national list of all 
voters, this works out at 13,500 people in each of the nine units. 

Many parties may find this fixed threshold difficult to reach in sparsely 
populated rural regions such as Talas, where the total registered electorate is 
121,000 people. That would mean that the 12 eligible parties will each be 
fighting for an 11 per cent share of all voters in Talas, an apparently 
impossible task given the number of people who are away working in Russia or 
who will simply stay at home on election day. 

Akimov said the parties were seriously worried at the prospect. “Calls to 
boycott the election or to stage protests beforehand indicates that the parties 
do not have sufficient resources to overcome this minimum threshold,” he said.

However, political scientist Mars Sariev said that street protests had become 
so frequent in the last two years that they had lost much of their 

“The electorate is tired of protest actions,” he said. “Opposition attempts to… 
again draw attention to themselves might backfire. The opposition could lose 
credit - and lose the election.”

Aziza Amirova is a pseudonym for an IWPR contributor in Bishkek


Failure of parties to offer voters distinctive policies may result in a low 
turnout in the weekend parliamentary election.

By Yryskeldi Kadykeev in Bishkek

Kyrgyzstan’s upcoming election could see a low turnout because the various 
political parties have failed to develop distinctive programmes that will 
entice voters to the polls, and instead are continuing to rely on the pulling 
power of big-name leaders.

Analysts say the sudden decision to go for an early parliamentary election on 
December 16 has left the electorate no time to grasp any of the differences 
between the 12 registered parties, especially when it comes to solutions to the 
economic crisis gripping of one of the poorest countries in the former Soviet 

The parties’ election material does not help. Most of it is based purely around 
the personalities of the leaders and offers few clues as to what a party’s 
actual policies might be.

“The parties have not been working on their programmes for long, which is why 
they are so similar to each other and so cumbersome,” the political analyst 
Marat Kazakbaev told IWPR. “They’ve worked harder on other promotional material 
highlighting the names of their leaders and their positive traits.”

The early election was announced immediately after the October 21 referendum on 
the new constitution that changed the election process from a 
constituency-based system to one using proportional representation. 

The sudden decision left Kyrgyzstan’s parties only two months to prepare. Only 
12 of the 100-odd parties have been admitted to the race.

Nur Omarov, another political analyst, said the tight timetable has resulted in 
“quasi-party elections, involving a battle of identities rather than of 
political programmes”. The lack of clear programmes offering a way out of 
economic crisis makes parties less attractive to the electorate, Omarov went 

“Many of Kyrgyzstan’s people don’t believe their votes will make a real 
difference, nor do they believe the count will be fair,” he said. 

“Besides, one-third of the electorate is outside the country and another 20 per 
cent is apathetic and will ignore the election. So a 50 per cent turnout is a 

Kyrgyzstan has been in the throes of economic crisis ever since the collapse of 
the Soviet Union in 1991. In 2007, the unemployment level hovered at 18 or 19 
per cent. Meanwhile, a million able-bodied adults, one-fifth of the total 
population, are away working abroad, mainly in Russia and Kazakhstan.

Toktogul Kakchekeev, another analyst, said what interested voters most was how 
the election might lead to a turnaround.

Instead of this, he said, the electorate is getting “arguments rewritten and 
copied from other parties – particularly in Russia – that resolve almost 

“All the parties have the same things written into their programmes,” he added. 
“People are aware of the pasts of all these politicians and are bored with 
their personae; they haven’t done people any good and are engaging in politics 
just to make money.” 

Kakcheev concluded, “It’s now seen as proper, intelligent and well-mannered to 
vote against all of them [by not voting].”

But not everyone agrees the turnout will be so low, or that there is much of an 
appetite for detailed electoral programmes. 

Valentin Bogatyrev, deputy head of the Vostok think-tank, believes the 
“novelty” of the newly-introduced proportional system of voting will lure 
people to the polls. 

“People are interested in the… new party system,” he said.

Dinara Oshurakhunova, who heads the Association for Democracy and Civil 
Society, agrees. Although lack of time has prevented the parties from preparing 
serious election programmes, turnout will be quite high because of interest in 
the proportional system, she maintains. 

“Voters are interested in taking part in this proportional system; I think the 
turnout will be higher than usual,” said Oshurakhunova.

Bermet Bukasheva, who is standing as a candidate for the opposition Ata-Meken 
party, also believes turnout will be high, albeit for very different reasons. 

She notes that each of the big personalities taking part in the campaign has “a 
numerous army of supporters, his own campaign team, his own funding and his own 
human resources”. 

Bukasheva says the electorate is not politically mature enough to engage with 
party political platforms, so the emphasis on personalities is natural enough 
and will not necessarily depress the turnout. 

“Maybe turnout will not be very high in Bishkek, but the regions will be moved 
by regional and clan factors,” she said. 

“Each party has people representing the districts and villages, and they will 
bring out their own supporters.” 

Yryskeldi Kadykeev is the pseudonym of an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.


The hard-line president is taking no chances as he prepares to secure another 

IWPR staff in Central Asia

Uzbek president Islam Karimov leaves nothing to chance. In the run-up to an 
election in which he is standing yet again, the security services have been 
placed on maximum alert. 

The country’s Coordination Council, which links Ministry of Interior officials 
and the National Security Service, held a meeting in late October at which the 
green light was given for police to increase surveillance and strengthen their 
presence on the streets.

Officially, the heightened security was to counter crime and Islamic extremism. 
In practice, the alert reminds potential opponents of the regime of what they 
can expect if they cause trouble during the December 23 polls. 

Observers in Uzbekistan have reported a major build-up of police in cities and 
villages. Guards at government buildings have been reinforced and there are 
more police on the streets.

“The number of police on the streets is three times more than usual, and it is 
especially visible in Tashkent,” said one Uzbek journalist.

Voters are in no doubt what the message is - there is no alternative to Karimov.

“When people came to us and forced us to submit our signatures in support of 
Karimov’s candidacy, it was clear the authorities would stop at nothing to 
achieve their goal,” one potential voter in the Bukhara region told IWPR. “They 
want everything to go according to their scenario.”

A crackdown on suspected opponents of the authoritarian regime in Tashkent has 
been going on for several weeks. In mid-October, police arrested five people 
suspected of ties with the banned Islamic organisation Hizb-ut-Tahrir in 
Karasuv, which lies on the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border near the city of Andijan.

Evidence of their involvement in the group was far from compelling, observers 
say. Police used ashes from allegedly burned leaflets as evidence to detain 

Many people suspect the campaign against alleged Islamic militants is a cover 
to round up anyone suspected of anti-government sympathies.

“I heard that the brother of an acquaintance of mine was arrested on suspicion 
of belonging to Hizb-ut-Tahrir, though he certainly wasn’t one of their 
supporters – he was just critical of the government,” said an Andijan resident.

“Karimov is afraid of protests and demonstrations because during events in 
Andijan, people were able to mobilise,” the same person added, referring to the 
may 2005 demonstration which security forces fired on, causing large-scale 

The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Centre has already reported a crackdown 
on anti-government Uzbek exiles in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakstan. 

In late October, the human rights group reported that the Ukrainian security 
service, was grilling Central Asian migrants living in Kiev in order to track 
down Shukhrat Goziev, an asylum-seeker from Kokand.

Goziev is on the Uzbek government’s wanted list for ties with Hizb-ut-Tahrir, 
though many believe he is unconnected with the group. 

On November 23, sources reported that another Uzbek refugee, Khurshid 
Shamsutdinov, who fled to Kazakstan in August after Tashkent police charged him 
with Islamic extremism, had disappeared in Almaty. Friends of Shamsutdinov have 
expressed concern that the Uzbek security services may have abducted him. 

Experts say that inside Uzbekistan, the authorities started hiking up the 
pressure several months ago. The drive began with special directives sent to 
all provincial administrations to ensure the public was made aware of the need 
for a “peaceful situation” – and to head off possible trouble in the run-up to 
the polls on December 23. 

Although Uzbekistan’s constitution prohibits the head of state for more than 
two consecutive terms, Karimov, who has run Uzbekistan for the last 18 years, 
is standing once again. The justification appears to be that when the 
constitution was changed in 2002 to give presidents seven rather than five 
years, he should be considered to be starting again and his many previous years 
in office were irrelevant.

In theory, he is running against three alternative candidates: Diloram 
Tashmuhammedova from the Adolat party, Asliddin Rustamov from the People’s 
Democratic Party and Akmal Saidov, director of the National Centre for Human 

But seasoned observers say the three contenders are there purely to create the 
appearance of pluralism, and that Karimov will secure an easy win.

The elimination of serious political opposition began soon after Uzbekistan 
became independent in 1991, and the Birlik and Erk parties were driven 
underground within a few years. Their leaders are in exile, and they never had 
the slightest chance of fielding candidates in this election; nor did the more 
recent Ozod Dehkonlar (“Free Farmers”) Party.

“Karimov’s unchanging thesis is ‘stability at any price’, which he declares 
during his many public speeches,” said a local commentator. “For the people of 
Uzbekistan, it has come to mean the start of a new campaign to crush any form 
of dissent.”

Nadezhda Ataeva, head of the French-based Human Rights in Central Asia 
association, believes the crackdown is evidence of Karimov’s paranoia, as there 
is no serious threat to his regime – certainly not from the political 

“Karimov can rest easy,” she said. “He’s got a free hand.”


Officially, satellite dishes have to go because they are an eyesore, but the 
real aim may be to cut off people from information from outside.

By IWPR staff in Bishkek

Turkmenistan’s authoritarian leader has demanded the removal of satellite 
dishes from the roofs and walls of houses and tower blocks in the capital 
Ashgabat on the grounds that they spoil the city’s appearance.

The decision was taken at a cabinet meeting on December 1. By way of 
compensation, President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov said he had ordered the 
telecommunications ministry to install a “common satellite dish with a huge 
diameter” in the near future.

“It will not be a big problem to do so,” the Turkmen president said in a 
statement carried on the national Altyn Asyr television channel.

Satellite TV is one of the main ways for people in this isolated country to 
obtain information about the outside world. 

Cable television boomed in the Nineties, when local firms offered packages of 
Russian TV channels.

However, in 2003, the late president, Saparmurat Niyazov, slapped a ban on the 
broadcasting of Russian TV without a special license, cable television was cut 
off and the firms providing the services closed.

Resourceful people surmounted this obstacle by installing their own satellite 

“Many families have installed two, three or four dishes,” one resident in 
Ashgabat told IWPR. “A satellite dish is an integral part of our daily life, as 
much as a library is for any cultured person. A person without a dish is seen 
as weird or hopeless in Turkmen society.”

According to the Vienna-based Turkmen Initiative on Human Rights, almost every 
family in Ashgabat – which has a population of about 500,000 – regularly 
watches satellite television, thanks to cheap Chinese imported dishes that cost 
as little as 50 US dollars.

A good-sized dish, a digital tuner and a 20-metre cable together cost just over 
100 dollars, depending on the brand. A small antenna carrying only European 
channels might cost only a fifth of that price. Mounting the dish costs six or 
seven dollars.

“A family on almost any income can afford a complete set of equipment,” said 
one source. “Even those who have to count every manat [national currency] are 
often ready to stint themselves on food to get the money for this spiritual 

The plan to dismantle the dishes has therefore provoked dismay, prompting some 
people to protest to the president via human rights websites based abroad.

It will be “a violation of the right to access to information,” one Ashgabat 
resident, Adalat Bairiev, said in an open letter to President Berdymuhammedov, 
published on the human rights and news website Turkmenistan Chronicle, based in 

“Whatever they say about dishes making cities look ugly, everybody will regard 
this decision as an act of censorship and a restriction of people’s rights to 
information,” added Bairiev. 

Because of the lack of independent information in a country where only 
heavily-censored state media operate, the demand for satellite dishes has been 
high - not only in the capital but also in rural areas.

Satellite dish owners currently enjoy access to the Yamal and Hot Bird 
satellites carrying Russian, European, Turkish, Iranian, Azerbaijani, Kazak and 
Uzbek channels. The most popular programmes in Turkmenistan appear to be on the 
main Russian news, entertainment and sports channels, plus the MTV music 
channel, CNN and EuroNews.

People also tune in to Voice of America radio and the Turkmen service of Radio 
Liberty via their satellite dishes.

Ethnic minorities also rely on the dishes for TV in their own languages. 

“In the north of Turkmenistan, where ethnic Uzbeks and Kazaks live, the 
population receives programmes from those countries with the help of antennae,” 
said an observer from the northern Dashoguz region.

An engineer from the state telecoms agency, Turkmentelecom, said he thought 
people would accept the ban on dishes if all the TV channels that people like 
to watch remain available to homes by relay from the planned “giant dish”. 

Some experts are sceptical about Berdymuhammedov’s proposal, saying that even 
if the channels available via the common satellite service are not restricted 
for political reasons, there is unlikely to be enough of them to serve the 
needs of a diverse audience. 

One former employee of state television pointed out that if the government 
allowed more choice in the domestic media, “there would be competition and 
quality and the need for individual satellites would fall off by itself”.

This looks unlikely in the current political climate, where the four state TV 
channels and handful of government-controlled newspapers continue to serve up a 
carefully-filtered diet of propaganda.

(The names of interviewees have been withheld out of concern for their 



Border difficulties affecting Kyrgyz villagers blamed on overzealous frontier 
guards and on Kyrgyzstan’s failure to ratify a demarcation agreement.

By Diana Iskakova in Bishkek

Most of the long and winding frontier between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan is a 
picture of peace and tranquility.

With a border drawn mainly on natural geographic lines, the two countries – the 
Goliath of Central Asia and its much smaller southern neighbour - have avoided 
the kind of frontier disputes that have bedevilled Kyrgyzstan’s relations with 
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

But at two points on the 980-km long border, unresolved matters remain, and 
Kyrgyz villagers complain of routine harassment by Kazak border guards. 

One flashpoint is the village of Stepnoye, in the Chui region of northern 
Kyrgyzstan, just north of the capital, Bishkek. 

Here about one thousand hectares of land belonging to the village lies in a 
wedge of Kyrgyz territory that protrudes into Kazakstan. About 800 of the 1,200 
villagers have fields in this area, but to reach their land, they have to cross 
the highway running between the Kazak cities of Almaty and Taraz. 

The catch is that the road counts as Kazak territory, and it has a checkpoint 
on it. 

As local land surveyor Yury Nikolaev explained, “Kazak border guards delay 
villagers going to their fields and demand to see their passports, so conflicts 
arise as a result. Not all the villagers take their passports because they 
believe it’s their territory and it shouldn’t be necessary.” 

Aydarbek Asambaev is among the villagers who has had trouble with the Kazak 
border guards while returning home from the fields. 

“The guards ordered me to go through their checkpoint, and I refused,” he said. 
“Why should we go through [border] posts on our own territory?

“After a discussion, I showed my passport and they let me pass. But I got the 
impression that the border guards from Kazakstan don’t know where the borders 
lie and regard the land across the road as their own.” 

Other villagers have also complained about the Kazak officials’ high-handed 
ways, and especially about a mobile frontier unit that patrols the Almaty-Taraz 

Kazbek Semenov, another resident of Stepnoye, recalled, “Once they said I’d 
crossed the border and took away my passport. Then they ordered me to pay a 
fine of 17,000 tenge [about 140 US dollars], allegedly for breaching the 

Only following the intervention of the village policeman was Semenov able to 
recover his passport without paying the stiff penalty the Kazaks had demanded. 

“After that, I’ve tried not to go to the field very often, only during sowing 
and harvesting,” he said. “But I do have to go to fertilise crops, check how 
the seedlings are coming up and see whether there is damage caused by cattle.” 

Almaz Tashpaev, chief of police in the Chui regional administration, says he 
has received countless complaints from villagers in Stepnoye that they are 
unable to go freely to their fields and gather the harvest.

Apart from complaining of unnecessary border checks, the villagers also accuse 
Kazak border guards of seizing stray livestock, and only returning it in 
exchange for money or following Kyrgyz police intervention. 


Kyrgyz politicians and experts say the blame for the situation does not lie 
solely at the feet of Kazakstan’s frontier service; their own side is also at 
fault for failing to ratify a border agreement.

An agreement on the Kyrgyz-Kazak state border was signed by the two governments 
back in 2001 and has been ratified by the Kazak parliament. However, the 
parliament of Kyrgyzstan has refused to approve the agreement, claiming it is 

But another important factor has been the political turmoil that has gripped 
Kyrgyzstan and consumed parliament’s energies for the past two years.

When Kazak president Nursultan Nazarbaev visited Bishkek in April, he urged 
legislators to ratify the agreement, saying that apart from offering a 
comprehensive solution, “this is also a matter of trust – a matter of the 
future of our countries”.

Salamat Alamanov, head of the Kyrgyz government’s department for regional 
affairs, says opposition parties played on nationalist fears about the border 
deal and stirred up hostility to the agreement. 

“Some politicians have talked about only those areas that were to be given to 
Kazakstan and said nothing about those that were going to Kyrgyzstan,” he said, 
referring to proposed exchanges of territory.

As a result, Alamanov continued, “our parliament is extremely sensitive about 
the border, whereas in reality there were no problems. When the border lines 
were drawn, there were mutual exchanges of land so that neither side would lose 

Returning to the Stepnoye dispute, Alamanov insisted the problem was not only 
the demarcation of borders but also the poor manner in which situations were 
handled on the ground. 

“The frontier officials in Stepnoye need to meet and agree on a simplified 
procedure for letting our villagers across [to their land],” he said. “It’s 
just not correct to claim that one of the major causes of border conflicts is 
non-demarcated borders.”

Some steps to ease the situation in Stepnoye have taken place and according to 
Almaz Tashpaev of the Chui regional administration, Kyrgyz and Kazak border 
officials recently agreed to allow local residents to cross showing other forms 
of ID rather than their passports. 

Village head Nikolay Budko clarified the terms of the deal, “During the spring 
and autumn harvests, we will give out special certificates to villagers who 
have land plots over the road so they can go to the fields without being 

But whether Kazak frontier guards are aware of the new arrangement is far from 
clear. Sabit Beishenbetov, a sergeant with the Kazak unit stationed near 
Stepnoye insisted that as far as he knew, Kyrgyz citizens could cross the 
border only with passports, and other documents were not valid. 


Problems on the Kyrgyz-Kazak border are not limited to the village of Stepnoye, 
or to Chui region. Similar disputes simmer away in the Talas region, which also 
adjoins Kazakstan. 

Here, as in Stepnoe, there are frequent complaints that livestock are impounded 
if they stray into Kazak territory, and herdsmen have been detained.

In this case, it is a slice of Kazak territory that juts into Kyrgyzstan. 
Villagers in Kaynar and Koksay in the Karabuura district, on one side of the 
“peninsula”, say Kazak border guards will not let them drive farm vehicles 
across to reach 1,200 hectares of farmland which lie on the other side. 

They have to take a long detour to reach their land without crossing Kazak 
territory, and complain that the route takes them through rough terrain which 
even tractors find difficult going 


According to Chui police chief Tashpaev, the simplest solution for most border 
disputes between Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan would be a final, definitive 
agreement involving land swaps where necessary. 

In the case of Stepnoye, this would mean that Kyrgyzstan would surrender the 
fields lying on the far side of the Almaty-Taraz road, and receive an 
equivalent slice of land closer to the village. 

But petty disputes and a tendency on either side to view any agreement as a 
sell-out get in the way of a final deal.

In Stepnoye, part of the border follows the course of the river Chu. When the 
river overflows and washes away its banks, both Kazak and Kyrgyz sides try to 
shore them up more or less where they were in order to hold onto their 

But from a Kyrgyz point of view, annual floods between 2002 and 2006 have 
shifted the course of the river markedly, leading to the loss of about 500 
hectares of land. Some argue that this “washed away” land must be factored into 
any final settlement. 

Cholponbek Turusbekov, an official with the Kyrgyz frontier service, says joint 
patrols in controversial areas might offer an interim solution. 

But he fears conflicts will continue to arise as long as citizens on either 
side of the border remain unaware of the exact course of the border.

The failure to sign off on the agreement with Kazakstan has not improved 
things, he argues, adding, “There is only one way out – to ratify the border.”

Diana Iskakova is an independent journalist in Bishkek.

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