WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 584, July 23, 2009

KYRGYZ ELECTION UPDATES 2009:

KYRGYZ COPS OUT IN FORCE FOR ELECTION  Authorities accused of using police to 
pressure opposition campaigners.  By Anara Yusupova in Bishkek

PRESIDENT TO BENEFIT FROM KYRGYZ SUMMER POLLS  Opposition says election timing 
geared towards low turnout, making ballot-rigging easier.  By Anara Yusupova 
and Gulzat Abdurasulova in Bishkek

TAMING TAJIKISTAN’S EASTERN VALLEYS  After local power-broker dies in 
firefight, experts say key is to ensure that counter-insurgency drive does not 
cause further upset.  By Lola Olimova and Nargiz Hamrabaeva in Dushanbe

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KYRGYZ ELECTION UPDATES 2009:

KYRGYZ COPS OUT IN FORCE FOR ELECTION

Authorities accused of using police to pressure opposition campaigners.

By Anara Yusupova in Bishkek

Ahead of the Kyrgyz presidential election which got under way on July 23, human 
rights groups alleged that police were being used to intimidate opposition 
supporters.

First deputy interior minister Sabyrbek Kurmanaliev said on July 14 that 
additional police would be deployed on election day to bring the overall number 
to 12,000, of whom 5,000 would be stationed at the 2,200 or so polling stations 
around the country.

Another 7,000 would be held in reserve, ready to be dispatched within half an 
hour to any polling station, he said.

“The law-enforcement agencies are flexing their muscles,” commented Asiya 
Sasykbaeva, head of the Interbilim non-government group. “What kind of election 
is it if there’s a need for so many police officers? What are they scared of? 
And what is the purpose of this rapid deployment?”

“Most Kyrgyz citizens perceive the deputy interior minister’s remarks as a 
threat,” she concluded.

Of the six candidates in the July 23 election, the president Kurmanbek Bakiev, 
seeking a second term, is the strongest contender. His leading opponent is 
Social Democratic Party leader Almazbek Atambaev, selected by the main 
opposition bloc, the United People’s Movement, UPM, as its sole candidate. 

The others on the list are Temir Sariev of the Ak Shumkar party, Toktaim 
Umetalieva, Jenishbek Nazaraliev and Nurlan Motuev.

The campaign teams for both opposition-aligned contenders, Atambaev and Sariev, 
have claimed that police have harassed candidates and supporters or otherwise 
interfered with their campaigns. 

Emilbek Kaptagaev of the Uluu Birimdik party, which is part of the UPM bloc, 
alleges that on the night of June 20-21, he was abducted by a group of men – 
one of them wearing police uniform – driven out of town, beaten up and 
abandoned.

Speaking at a press conference on July 16, Kaptagaev accused the authorities of 
arranging the attack. 

At the same event, Atambaev recalled how he fell ill while meeting voters on 
June 19 – and alleged that officers of the State Committee for National 
Security, GKNB, had poisoned him.

Another leading UPM member, former defence minister Ismail Isakov, said, 
“They’re effectively hunting us down, and it’s happening with the approval of 
the country’s leadership.”

Sariev’s team allege that when they stayed overnight in a private house in the 
town of Tash-Komur in the southern Jalalabad region on July 7, police and local 
government officials intimidated the owner into asking them to leave. 

“Terrified relatives of the host called and persuaded the candidate to leave 
the house. At around 11 in the evening, the election team left without having 
anywhere to stay, and was forced to leave for Aksy district,” said a report 
from Sariev’s campaign headquarters.

IWPR was unable to get a comment from the interior ministry on the specific 
allegations made by Kaptagaev and Atambaev, as it will not talk about matters 
that have not been formally reported to the police.

However, interior ministry spokesman Bakyt Seitov told IWPR that police 
officers were not interfering with campaigning by opposition candidates.

“Police officers across the country are rigorously carrying out their 
professional obligations to provide order and protect public security,” he 
said. “They do not get involved in politics. There is no proof to back up such 
allegations.”

He added, “I think opposition members say things like this as a cheap way of 
winning popularity.”

Beyshenbek Abdyrasakov, a member of parliament from the governing Ak Jol party, 
said there was no evidence that police were harassing opposition candidates. 

“The opposition knows in advance that it’s going to lose this election, so it’s 
trying to get the public to believe that it has been subjected to pressure and 
threats,” he said. “In reality, it doesn’t enjoy very high ratings, so it 
invents stories of this kind to hide the fact that it’s unpopular and that not 
many people turn up for its meetings.”

In Abdyrasakov’s view, “This election campaign is more honest, clean and 
transparent than ever before. I think people will go to the polls of their own 
free will and make their own choices calmly.”

Sasykbaeva says that as well as the campaign teams, ordinary voters were 
fearful of police surveillance when they met candidates, in case this got them 
into trouble once the election was over.

“Villagers in many regions are forced to hide behind trees when they meet an 
opposition candidate and his election team, out of fear that if they will 
caught on video by security officers and they or their families then face 
persecution,” she said.

In a report published on July 14, the “Time for My Choice” Alliance of Civic 
Organisations, an umbrella group of non-government groups which aims to monitor 
electoral practices, said opposition members of local electoral commissions had 
been pressured to leave.

“Right after joining electoral commissions, representatives of opposition 
parties were forced to leave following strong pressure from local government, 
law-enforcement bodies and the security service,” said the report. “Of the 144 
representatives from the Social Democratic party in Issykkul region, 48 people 
renounced their positions at the last minute.”

The Alliance of Civic Organisations published a list of recommendations calling 
for action against interior ministry police and GKNB officers who intimidated 
people into stepping down from electoral bodies. 

Asked about the allegations, Samibek Kadyraliev, Issykkul regional coordinator 
for the governing Ak Jol party, said, “I don’t believe that – I think they’ve 
resigned because they know their candidates are hopeless.”

Political analyst Mars Sariev is sceptical of official claims that the 
opposition has made up the claims of harassment.

“The authorities are doing this in order to paralyse the activity of civil 
society. The increasing number of cases of journalists being beaten up and the 
general atmosphere of fear reigning in the country – it’s all designed to 
instil fear in Kyrgyzstan’s people.”

Anara Yusupova is pseudonym for a journalist in Kyrgyzstan.


PRESIDENT TO BENEFIT FROM KYRGYZ SUMMER POLLS

Opposition says election timing geared towards low turnout, making 
ballot-rigging easier.

By Anara Yusupova and Gulzat Abdurasulova in Bishkek

Civil rights and opposition activists say the decision to hold this week’s 
presidential election on a working day at the height of the holiday season was 
designed to tip the balance in favour of incumbent Kurmanbek Bakiev.

The vote takes place on July 23, a Thursday, a departure from previous practice 
of holding elections at the weekend. When the law was changed to allow this in 
late December, the authorities said they wanted to boost turnout, as people had 
often said they were too busy to come out on a weekend. 

However, critics of the government say the timing of this election creates 
scope for busing in people to vote en masse – for example public-sector workers 
who, they say, may be pressured into casting their vote for the powers that be. 
Meanwhile, other sections of the electorate will be hard at work, away on 
holiday, or just too apathetic to vote.

Even before voting starts, violations of the rules have already been alleged by 
the Union of Civil Society Organisations for Voters’ Rights, an umbrella group 
set up to monitor the election.

At a news conference in Bishkek on July 15, Dinara Oshurakhunova, whose 
Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society is part of the monitoring group, 
said, “It’s now pretty certain that the heads of all state enterprises as well 
as of some private companies are going to make sure their employees turn out to 
vote, and that they’ll also influence the choice they make.”

Lawyer Sartbay Jaychibekov, who spoke at the same news conference, said that 
some employers were increasing working hours to factor in voting time. 

“I have information that the directors of the brick factory and brewery in Kant 
[near the capital Bishkek] have extended the working day on July 23 from eight 
to ten hours,” he said. “The heads of these plants have also said they’ll be 
telling people who to vote for. In other words, they will probably take their 
employees en masse and tell them who to vote for.”
According to the Central Election Commission, CEC, 2.7 million out of the 
population of five million are eligible to vote. 

Of the six candidates, Bakiev, seeking a second term, is a strong contender. He 
was elected in July 2005 after playing a leading role in a popular uprising 
which led to the then head of state, Askar Akaev, fleeing the country earlier 
that year. 

Bakiev’s leading opponent is Social Democratic Party leader Almazbek Atambaev, 
selected by the main opposition bloc, the United People’s Movement, UPM, as its 
sole candidate. 

The others on the list are Ak Shumkar party leader Temir Sariev, Toktaim 
Umetalieva, who heads the Association of Non-Commercial and Non-Government 
Organisations; Jenishbek Nazaraliev, a high-profile doctor; and Nurlan Motuev, 
who heads the Joomart Patriotic Movement and is co-leader of the Kyrgyz Muslim 
Union. 

A leader of the UPM, Azimbek Beknazarov, believes the authorities are keen to 
keep turnout as low as possible since that is likely to tilt the balance away 
from opposition candidates. 

“First, it plays into the authorities’ hands if people don’t participate in the 
election actively,” he said. “That’s why a day in summer was chosen, when many 
are on holiday. Secondly, having it on a working day makes it easier to 
mobilise public sector workers in favour of Bakiev.”

A personnel manager at a large state-run enterprise, who asked to remain 
anonymous, told IWPR she had been given orders not to authorise annual leave to 
her staff.

“All public-sector workers were given unofficial instructions to ensure a high 
turnout and cast their votes for Bakiev. The bosses are trying to do all they 
can. So until July 23, we are not allowing anyone to go on leave,” she said.

“Although we don’t know how the voting is to be organised, there is talk that 
people will be bused in to polling stations in groups.” 

The authorities, however, insist they are doing everything they can to get as 
many people as possible to cast their votes. 

According to the deputy head of the CEC’s logistics and legal department, 
Myrzabek Argymbaev, people who are on holiday can either vote in advance, or 
register early to acquire the right to vote anywhere in the country. 

“It’s possible to vote eight days before election day, as people can register… 
15 days in advance and vote at any polling station,” he said. 

An adviser at the CEC, Aziz Sadyrbaev, said a campaign was in train to persuade 
people to use their votes. 

“The main purpose of the Participate and Vote campaign is to increase 
participation. T-shirts and baseball caps with slogans about election day will 
be distributed,” he said.

As in other post-Soviet states, though, there are fears that the advance voting 
system is open to abuse, especially as it is hard for independent election 
monitors to check up on procedures. 

The online news agency Fergana.ru reported that postal workers from Bishkek had 
been directed to apply for early votes, and were issued with papers falsely 
stating that they would be on business trips abroad on election day. They were 
then handed ballot papers on which Bakiev’s name already had a tick next to it.

Tabyldy Orozaliyev, a senior parliamentary member of Bakiev’s Ak Jol party, 
denied the allegations of manipulation. 

“What the human rights activists are saying is nonsense,” he said. “The 
election date could fall on any day of the week and the opposition would be 
still unhappy. Also, I cannot imagine how you’d take the staff members from a 
whole factory or enterprise and bring them to the polling stations.” 

Analysts interviewed for the report doubt the authorities genuinely want a high 
turnout. 

According to political scientist Mars Sariev, the combined effect of the 
election falling on a working day and also in the middle of the holiday season 
will serve as an additional deterrent, especially to the many voters who have 
already switched off from politics.

“People are going to be able to vote only within the space of one or two hours 
before their working day begins, or for the same amount of time after work,” he 
said, adding that many would have to use overcrowded public transport to get to 
a polling station.

“They should have chosen a weekend for the election, when there would also have 
been fewer people needing to vote in advance. In reality, early voting 
facilitates ballot-rigging, as observers are less vigilant ahead of election 
day itself.”

In Sariev’s view, the lowest turnout could be in the capital, where the 
concentration of potential opposition voters is highest.

“Everything is being done to minimise the protest vote. In rural areas, the 
election is traditionally treated as a holiday and many will turn out,” he said.

Voters interviewed by IWPR said they would be reluctant to vote because of the 
choice of day.

Music teacher Altynay Umarova has already made plans to spend election day on 
the shores of Lake Issykul. 

“To be frank, I am completely indifferent to this election. I have started my 
long-awaited holiday, and I don’t plan to waste it on a trip to the ballot 
box,” she said.

A manager at a private firm selling computers who gave his name as Bektur said 
had no incentive to take time off to go and vote.

“In order to cast my vote, I’d have to ask for permission to be away, and that 
could impact my salary. I’m not prepared to waste time spending two hours on a 
round trip to the polling station,” said Bektur.

“This election is going to take place without me – and most of my colleagues 
are of the same mind. Nothing’s going to change anyway.”

Anara Yusupova is a pseudonym for a journalist in Kyrgyzstan. Gulzat 
Abdurasulova is an IWPR-trained reporter.


TAMING TAJIKISTAN’S EASTERN VALLEYS

After local power-broker dies in firefight, experts say key is to ensure that 
counter-insurgency drive does not cause further upset.

By Lola Olimova and Nargiz Hamrabaeva in Dushanbe

Nearly two weeks after a former rebel commander was killed in a firefight, 
officials say stability is returning to the eastern valleys of Tajikistan and 
any remaining armed militants are being hunted down. 

Analysts say that to prevent the ongoing sweep from creating a backlash among 
local communities, the security forces will need to tread lightly and avoid 
needlessly harassing villagers. 

Interior Minister Abdurahim Kakhkharov told a July 22 press conference that the 
Tavildara valley, the scene of several recent clashes, was now stable. 

In the Rasht valley, which runs north of and roughly parallel to Tavildara, the 
minister said efforts were under way to find the three or four remaining 
members of an armed group that had appeared there in recent months and had 
largely been eliminated. 

Since May, the two valleys have seen sporadic firefights between government 
security forces and groups of armed men who appear – in the absence of firm 
information – to be a mix of local Tajiks and incomers. The authorities believe 
they are Islamic radicals who have been involved in the thriving drugs trade. 

MAJOR FIGURE SWITCHES SIDES FOR REASONS UNEXPLAINED 

Matters came to a head on July 11 with the death of Mirzo Ziyo, an influential 
figure who was commander-in-chief of the opposition guerrilla force in the 
civil war of the Nineties but later joined the government. 

The interior ministry and the State Committee for National Security, GKNB put 
out a joint statement on July saying Ziyo had allied himself with 
drug-smuggling gangs in Tavildara, but agreed to cooperate with the authorities 
after he was captured on July 11. 

When he agreed later that day to join police in an effort to negotiate with the 
militants, the latter shot him dead and wounded a number of policemen, the 
statement said. 

Mirzo Ziyo commanded the guerrillas of the United Tajik Opposition, UTO, which 
fought against government forces in the 1992-97 war. The UTO’s main component 
was the Islamic Rebirth Party, and the conflict was often portrayed as pitting 
Islamist fundamentalists against former Communists. But the divisions also ran 
along ethnic lines, with the UTO maintaining much of its power base in the 
eastern high-mountain valleys. 

The landmark peace deal of 1997 saw UTO combatants disarmed and senior members 
assigned posts in government. Mirzo Ziyo was made a lieutenant-general and 
appointed minister for emergencies, a disaster relief agency with its own 
quasi-military troops, some of them ex-UTO. 

The chain of events leading from his removal as minister in 2006 and his 
decision in late June to join armed bands roaming the mountain sides – 
according to the official version of events – is hard to explain. 

“Mirzo Ziyo was the unofficial leader in Tavildara,” explained political 
scientist Abdughani Mamadazimov, who heads the Association of Political 
Scientists of Tajikistan. “In recent years he’d moved away from an active role 
in the capital and relocated to the district centre. 

“But his past wouldn’t leave him alone. I have no hard information suggesting 
he was involved in the illicit drugs trade…, but as informal leader he would 
nevertheless have been aware that narcotics were moving out of Afghanistan via 
this inaccessible region to the north and further afield.” 

The interior ministry/GKNB statement alleged that Ziyo was involved in a drug 
trafficking ring set up to fund terrorism. The organisation, it said, was led 
by one Nemat Azizov, who the statement said was an active member of the Islamic 
Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, an outlawed group which launched raids into 
Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in 1999 and 2000. In recent years, the group has been 
based in northwestern Pakistan, allied with the Taleban and al-Qaeda. 

Interviewed by IWPR in late May, Ziyo complained of mounting harassment by the 
police. 

“Police sergeants began checking my ID at checkpoints for no reason,” he said. 
“This was an insult and I felt humiliated, but I did not offer any resistance. 
I sensed these incidents were being set up deliberately, and I didn’t want it 
to be me that started something.” 

MILITANTS IN THE MOUNTAINS 

Reports of clashes emerged in May shortly after media reports that another UTO 
commander called Mullo Abdullo had resurfaced in Tavildara after a long spell 
away in Afghanistan or Pakistan, and was trying to recruit local men to his 
small band. (For a full report on this, and subsequent clashes, see Chasing 
Phantoms in the Tajik Mountains, RCA No. 581, 24-Jun-09.) 

A senior interior ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told 
IWPR that “Mullo Abdullo also met former emergencies minister Mirzo Ziyo, who 
was reluctant to go for the idea of offering armed resistance to the regime.” 

Initially, the authorities insisted that troops were engaged exclusively in a 
counter-narcotics drive in the valley. Their suggestion that drugs were being 
grown in Tavildara may have been hard to credit since the climate is unsuitable 
for opium and marijuana cultivation, but Tajikistan is indisputably a well-worn 
trafficking route for Afghan heroin heading towards Russia and the rest of 
Europe. 

The identity of the armed group or groups that security forces encountered in 
the Rasht and Tavildara valleys in May and June remains unclear. 

From the various accounts, the picture is of returning civil war-era guerrillas 
who may have teamed up with local ex-UTO men who are disgruntled with central 
government. 

Then there is the alleged IMU connection, which is possible if the likes of 
Mullo Abdullo have spent time in Pakistan’s frontier provinces, and also 
because the IMU’s Uzbek fighters fought alongside Tajiks in the UTO. Finally, 
the Tajik interior ministry says five Russian nationals who it claims were also 
part of the trafficking network were killed in a firefight on July 16. Another 
five Russian citizens – all of them Chechens – had earlier been arrested on 
suspicion of belonging to the group. 

According to another interior ministry source, the authorities were aware of 
groups coming in from Afghanistan as long ago as last winter, but “didn’t 
assign much significance to them” as “militants occasionally turn up from the 
neighbouring state [Afghanistan] as Rasht is only loosely under government 
control”. He said the security operation, under the guise of an anti-opium 
sweep, was put together in a hurry once officials got wind that there were now 
some 20 or 25 men in the area. 

More troops were sent in after a soldier was killed and three more taken 
hostage in early May. But according to this source, they did not just engage in 
a pursuit operation, but also held indirect negotiations with the group’s 
leader Nemat Azizov, via his relatives. 

“But on June 25 Azizov and Malysh [another group member] went to see Ziyo in 
the village of Agba and they persuaded him to join their band,” said the 
official. 

By the time the interior ministry and GKNB issued their July 12 statement, they 
had to acknowledge that this was more than a routine anti-narcotics sweep and 
they identified Azizov as an IMU member engaged in an international drug 
trafficking. 

NO TURNING BACK 

According to a former GKNB officer who spoke to IWPR on condition of anonymity, 
it was inevitable that Ziyo’s decision to switch sides to the outlaws would 
cost him dear. 

“Political scientists call these people warlords. They play a positive role as 
long as they’re engaged in military operations, but they find it impossible to 
reintegrate into civilian life,” he said. “In peacetime, the government 
gradually begins cutting away at their influence – and it does so to its own 
former allies as well as to its opponents. We see clearly that this is the case 
with the Tajik government – it has taken virtually all the influential players 
from the civil war out of circulation.” 

Political analyst, Rashid Ghani Abdullo agrees that the former rebel turned 
government minister was finished the moment he aligned himself with a faction 
that thought it could oppose the central authorities by military means, 
potentially sparking renewed conflict in Tajikistan. 

“This showed that the authorities were right to suspect that some of the former 
armed opposition do not subscribe to peace and stability,” said Abdullo, “and 
also that certain individuals who have a problem with the government are 
prepared to destabilise the political and security situation for their own 
ends.” 

In Abdullo’s view, Tajik society would not stomach a resumption in warfare. 

“The generation that might back an opponent of the current regime has yet to 
emerge. And those who’d realistically be in a position to do so now remember 
the experience of the recent war and have no wish to enter into a confrontation 
with the authorities just to further the personal interests of certain 
individuals who are unhappy about losing their jobs in the state system and 
finding themselves on the outside of the decision-making process,” he said. 

TIME FOR A SOFTLY, SOFTLY APPROACH TO CALM NERVOUS COMMUNITIES 

Mamadazimov worries that taking Mirzo Ziyo out of the equation could have a 
destabilising effect in the eastern mountains. He argues that however 
ambivalent a figure Ziyo might have been, he was someone the central 
authorities could at least have done business with as they tried to govern this 
area. 

“Now he’s gone, and the [political] group that was loyal to him has 
disintegrated. That may negatively impact on stability in this important part 
of the country,” he said. 

Mirzo Ziyo’s death has been a difficult issue for the IRP to handle, given that 
he was the UTO’s top commander in the civil war. Now a legal party planning to 
contest next year’s parliamentary election, the Islamic party has little desire 
to be identified with the armed militants still up in the hills. 

In a July 18 statement, the party spoke of “transnational illegal groups” 
fomenting instability in the region. It urged the government and other 
political forces alike to make concerted efforts to achieve peace and dialogue. 

In a clear hint at concerns that government forces might use excessive force in 
Tavildara, the IRP said “experience has shown that the use of military force, 
even within the bounds of the law, is ineffective in Tajikistan”. 

Interviewed by IWPR last month, an influential local figure reflected local 
perceptions that police were picking out anyone “whose outward appearance is 
Islamic”, rather than known suspected militants, for detailed ID checks. 

The ex-GKNB officer who spoke to IWPR said the task now was to ensure that 
ongoing security operations were not perceived as harassment by the local 
population. 

“If government forces are able to learn the lessons from earlier years of 
military conflict, and prevent excesses taking place as they investigate the 
Tavildara confrontation, it might lead to these [mountain] districts finally 
coming back under government control.” 

“The government will gradually resume control over these mountainous regions, 
and the former UTO commanders can either live out their days in their private 
houses on the unspoken condition that they don’t meddle in this process, or 
else they’ll get squashed or eliminated.” 

Lola Olimova is IWPR editor in Tajikistan. Nargiz Hamrabaeva is a correspondent 
for the Asia Plus news agency. 

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