STORY BEHIND THE STORY  Reporting on the Kyrgyz Unrest  By Isomiddin Ahmedjanov

KYRGYZ PARTIES GEAR UP FOR ELECTION  High stakes for political groups seeking 
power in stronger parliament  By Timur Toktonaliev, Yevgenia Kim

WINDS OF CHANGE ON KAZAK-KYRGYZ BORDER  Kazakstan may be less jumpy about 
security in its smaller neighbour, but new customs arrangements could mean lax 
procedures are a thing of the past.   By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova, Yaroslava 

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Reporting on the Kyrgyz Unrest

By Isomiddin Ahmedjanov

I was only three years old the last time there were major clashes between the 
Kyrgyz and members of the large ethnic Uzbek minority in southern Kyrgyzstan, 
20 years ago.

I don’t have much of a recollection of the event. The only thing I remember is 
how an armoured personnel carrier drove through our street.

This time around, I was not only an eyewitness but a journalist who reported on 
the violence.

Fierce clashes broke out in my hometown of Osh in June this year and spread to 
neighbouring Jalalabad and other areas. The conflict appeared to escalate out 
of a fight between the two groups involving just a small number of people. But 
the ensuing running battles left more than 330 dead and temporarily displaced 
around 400,000 people.

The main challenge of reporting the conflict was the immediate personal danger. 
I was met with a lot of mistrust from people who viewed anyone asking questions 
with suspicion.

The job of a reporter is to observe and tell the story as an outsider. But in a 
violent conflict with two sides fighting each other, anyone who behaves as if 
they are a third party immediately arouses distrust. It is very much a “if 
you’re not with us you’re against us” attitude.

Many locals associated journalists with outsiders who could be spying on them. 
Such an attitude was understandable, fuelled by fear in those days of bloodshed 
when houses and business were targeted by groups of looters and arsonists 
roaming the streets.

So I had to adapt the way I usually work to the conditions of war. This 
included talking to people without an audio-recorder first and then finding a 
quiet corner to write down their words while they were still fresh in my mind; 
and taking pictures secretly.

There were two instances in which I narrowly escaped rough treatment. On the 
second day of the violence, I accompanied a group of residents from my 
neighbourhood, a predominantly Uzbek area, who were putting up massive 
roadblocks at the entrance to our neighbourhood.

When I started taking pictures, one of the locals noticed me and warned that I 
should stop. I tried to tell him that I was working on a newspaper report but 
it did not make any difference. He told me to stop immediately for the sake of 
my life and said that if a photo got into hands of the police then they could 
end up in trouble for erecting barricades. I left the group and hid my camera.

But four days later, when I ventured into another district of Osh, Frunzenskiy, 
I was not so lucky. I was taking pictures of people on the street when one of 
the residents grabbed my camera and broke it. They did not do any harm to me 
and just escorted me from their neighbourhood. I felt relieved that I left with 
only the damage to the camera.

Another difficulty was getting information as people refused to talk to a 
reporter. It took more time, as I had to talk to locals in an informal way 
without scaring them off. Sometimes, I had to visit various places and listen 
to what people were saying at gatherings.

Although it is not always easy to visit different communities and get people to 
express their view, I managed well under the circumstances, having talked to 
representatives of various communities – Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Russian. The 
majority of them would only talk under conditions of anonymity.

What also helped me is my appearance, which does not distinguish me as being 
from one particular ethnicity and which was useful to help me blend into the 
crowd. I can also speak all three major languages used in Kyrgyzstan.

As moving around the city was dangerous because of the mobs, and difficult 
because of the road blocks, many people did not know what was happening around 
them. So sometimes I “traded” what I knew about other places to get answers for 
my article. What also helped me at that time was being in constant contact with 
other journalists, friends who live in different parts of the city so that the 
situation could be pieced together.

Still, it is not surprising that under such difficult circumstances there were 
not many media outlets reporting from the street. The majority of media offices 
in Osh were set on fire or looted and many journalists left or stayed home 
because of safety concerns. So the information vacuum was quickly filled with 
rumours fuelling fear and panic among residents as well as giving a somewhat 
distorted version of events.

Like many of my media colleagues I share the view that along with parliamentary 
elections, rebuilding efforts and compensation to victims, an international 
investigation into the conflict should very much be part of the reconciliation 
efforts. This would help stop rumours about the possibility of another cycle of 
violence and provide objective and balance information of the situation on the 

The lesson I took from covering these violent events is that as a reporter you 
try to do your usual job - to provide balance and accurate, impartial 
reporting. But the conditions you work in are much more challenging and 
sometimes threaten your personal safety.

Covering the conflict I saw and heard a lot about human tragedy. I also learned 
a lot as a journalist. But I hope very much my newly acquired skills won’t be 
needed again.

Isomidin Ahmedjanov is an IWPR-trained reporter. 


High stakes for political groups seeking power in stronger parliament

By Timur Toktonaliev, Yevgenia Kim

While Kyrgyzstan’s forthcoming parliamentary election is intended to produce 
the most democratic system ever seen in Central Asia, there are fears it could 
widen political divisions in a country still reeling from recent ethnic 

As senior members of the transitional government that came to power in April 
step down so that they can run for parliament, some political analysts have 
expressed alarm at the prospect of a political-free-for-all coming so soon 
after last month’s violence.

At least 330 people have been confirmed dead in several days of fighting, 
looting and arson attacks involving members of the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities.

The authorities have decided against an earlier plan to bring the election 
forward and get it over with – and also against proposals to delay it to let 
tensions subside – and it will now take place on October 10. By law, official 
campaigning needs to begin at least two months beforehand.

In theory, the election could be a watershed, drawing a line under the recent 
violence and the more general political instability that has persisted since 
April, when the present leadership came to power after sitting president 
Kurmanbek Bakiev was driven from presidential office by popular protests.

Under a new constitution approved in a national referendum on June 27, 
parliament acquires more powers while the presidency becomes weaker. The 
winning party will get to pick a prime minister, who in turn chooses a cabinet.

To overcome past problems with dominant parties, another provision in the 
constitution limits the majority that any one group can get to 50 per cent plus 
five seats, meaning 65 seats in the expanded 120-member legislature. The 
authorities have also streamlined the procedures for setting up parties, 
allowing several to be set up in time for the October ballot.

The fact that the referendum went off largely peacefully and achieved a high 
turnout, despite the fear and disruption created by the violence in Osh and 
Jalalabad, has been used as an argument in favour of going ahead with the 
election despite concerns about the potentially divisive effects of political 

Acting head of state Roza Otunbaeva, whose appointment as interim president was 
approved in the same referendum, has pledged to ensure the vote is free and 
fair, and specifically to prevent politicians from using the power of the state 
to underpin their campaigns.

“No member of the interim government or member of staff of a government agency 
who is taking part in the election as part of a political party will use any 
public resources to support their activities; I mean state offices, transport, 
communications and so on,” Otunbaeva said on July 16, addressing the first 
meeting of the caretaker cabinet set up to replace ministers who have resigned 
to join the political fray.

For some commentators like political analyst Tamerlan Ibraimov, the stage is 
set for the most open contest Kyrgyzstan has seen to date.

“Today we have a truly pluralist political scene where any political force that 
believes itself worthy of representation in parliament can declare its 
intentions,” Ibraimov said.

Others argue that the multiplicity of factions and polarisation of views that 
are part and parcel of elections may not be what Kyrgyzstan needs right now.

“On the plus side, the presence of a large number of parties creates 
competition among them, which has the side-effect of preventing anyone 
monopolising the political scene,” Pavel Dyatlenko of the Polis Asia think-tank 
said. “The minus is that most of the parties are weak and show no tendency to 

During the election campaign, rivalries between politicians who until now were 
united in the interim administration will undoubtedly come out into the open, 
and there is a risk that the heightened political tensions could be exploited 
by troublemakers seeking to incite more violence.

Although the precise causes of the mass violence in south Kyrgyzstan remain 
unclear, the government has pinned the blame for that and earlier localised 
unrest on diehard supporters of Kurmanbek Bakiev, who was driven from 
presidential office by popular protests.

Political analyst Marat Kazakpaev warns that the forthcoming election could be 
a source of further conflict.

“There might be attempts to create provocation,” he said, adding that this 
could be avoided if the authorities worked to ensure the election was 
scrupulously fair.

Before formal campaigning gets under way, political parties seem to break down 
into two distinct groups.

First, there are the groups led by politicians who until recently were 
prominent members of the interim government.

Almazbek Atabaev, who leads the Social Democratic Party, and Ata Meken leader 
Omurbek Tekebaev served as deputy prime ministers, and Temir Sariev of Ak 
Shumkar was finance minister. Another leading figure, Azimbek Beknazarov, has 
aligned himself with the United People’s Movement, formerly a broad opposition 
coalition when Bakiev was in power and now reconstituted as s separate party 
using its Kyrgyz acronym BEK.

Analysts predict that this group of heavyweight parties will make most of the 
running in the election race.

But these groups may be weakened by the perception that their leaders, as 
government members, did too little to halt last month’s ethnic violence. That 
could be particularly bad news for those whose traditional constituencies are 
in southern Kyrgyzstan.

“All the pro-government parties have a problem – the south,” Kazakpaev said. 
“They’re viewed there as senior officials who were ineffectual at the start of 
the conflict. The outgoing government enjoys very little authority in the 
south, and that’s going to make it very hard for them to pick up votes there.”

The second grouping consists of smaller parties, many of them newcomers, which 
could benefit from if the reputation of more established groups is seen to be 

These parties, Ibraimov said, “are only just gathering pace, so it’s a bit too 
early to say they are serious players. I think things will become more or less 
clear in four to six weeks’ time.”

Respublika, which was set up in late June by former Social Democrat Omurbek 
Babanov, positions itself as a centrist force with a focus on the economy.

Kazakpaev says this party is so small that Babanov will have little option but 
to seek a merger with other parties, providing they will accept it.

Similarly, Butun Kyrgyzstan (All Kyrgyzstan) was founded only in early June, 
2010, and again talks mainly about social and economic matters.

It benefits from having as its leader Adakhan Madumarov, a former Bakiev 
official and speaker of parliament.

“Butun Kyrgyzstan is a promising party because Madumarov is an experienced 
politician… but it will have to merge with other parties as it has very few 
members – it has supporters in Jalalabad, and a few in Osh and Uzgen,” 
Kazakpaev commented. “Madumarov is an intelligent politician, and his party is 
potentially the second opposition force after Ata-Jurt. It would probably make 
more sense for the party to merge with Ata-Jurt if it wants to secure seats in 

The Azattyk (Freedom) Party was formed in early July by Ismail Isakov, a former 
defence minister who was part of the interim government. It combines support 
for the free market with a commitment to social welfare provision.

Marat Kazakpaev says that despite Isakov’s personal popularity, this party too 
will survive only through a merger because “it has no support in the north, and 
not everyone supports it in the south”.

According to analysts, Ata-Jurt is undoubtedly the strongest of the relative 
newscomers, and stands out for its Kyrgyz nationalist views.

It is led by Kamchybek Tashiev and .Akhmatbek Keldibekov, who served 
respectively as government minister for emergencies and tax office chief under 
Bakiev, the party has been around for a few years but came to prominence by 
delivering aid consignments to southern Kyrgyzstan last month.

“Ata-Jurt is a promising party, and represents the main opposition at the 
moment, as it will in the new parliament,” Kazakpaev said. “The party has 
substantial financial backing. The party’s leaders… have continuing voter 
support in the south. I am certain this party will be strong enough to get into 
parliament and form a new opposition there.”

Other parties standing for election include Ar-Namys, led by former prime 
minister Felix Kulov, with support is largely restricted to northern 
Kyrgyzstan, and El Armany, led by former army general Miroslav Niazov.

One thing that unites many parties in Kyrgyzstan is that they are generally 
built around prominent political personalities.

“Unfortunately, what we have are leader-based parties, which has no future as a 
direction. Parties should be founded for ideological reasons, but that… doesn’t 
happen in Kyrgyzstan at the moment,” Kazakpaev said. “Parties are still weak, 
as they should have constant funding sources but don’t have them right now. 
They are trying to find sufficient resources to take them up to this 
parliamentary election.”

The parties have everything to fight for in the autumn election, given that the 
winners will wield significantly more power than any previous legislators. 
However, just getting that far will be an achievement for Kyrgyzstan’s fragile 
political system.

Political commentator Mars Sariev sees this election as a third major attempt 
to overhaul the Kyrgyz political system, following the “Tulip Revolution” of 
2005 which brought Bakiev to power and the April 2010 revolt that toppled him.

“If this one fails, it will be fatal for Kyrgyzstan,” he said.

Timur Toktonaliev and Yevgenia Kim are IWPR-trained journalists.

This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central 
Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the 
European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and 
Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no 
way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign 
Ministry of Norway.


Kazakstan may be less jumpy about security in its smaller neighbour, but new 
customs arrangements could mean lax procedures are a thing of the past. 

By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova, Yaroslava Naumenko

Although the authorities in Kazakstan have reopened the frontier with 
neighbouring Kyrgyzstan following recent unrest in that country, they are 
likely to keep a much closer eye on cross-border activity from now on. 

After Kazakstan closed all crossing-points in April, its frontier forces 
intensified their patrols of border areas. The emergency security precautions 
have now been relaxed, but analysts predict that Kazakstan will continue 
efforts to clamp down on smuggling now that its customs union with Russia and 
Belarus has fundamentally changed the way it trades with Kyrgyzstan.

Kazakstan closed the border in April after demonstrations in the Kyrgyz capital 
Bishkek left at least 80 dead and forced the departure of president Kurmanbek 
Bakiev. After further trouble in May, this time in the south of the country, 
the Kazaks agreed to reopen a limited number of crossings for human traffic and 
essential goods as Kyrgyz officials complained that the lack of trade was 
strangling the economy.

Kazakstan remained cautious about restoring traffic completely, especially in 
the wake of ethnic clashes on a massive scale in mid-June that left 330 or more 
people dead and caused wide-scale population displacement in the south of 

It was not until July 20 that Kazakstan finally reduced the security alert 
level and allow traffic to start moving normally again.

The decision was taken despite two incidents a week earlier in which Kazak 
frontier guards intercepted groups of intruders from Kyrgyzstan.

One of these confrontations, on July 13, ended in a shootout which left two 
Kyrgyz nationals dead and a Kazak border guard badly wounded.

The deputy head of Kazakstan’s border service, Amangeldy Abylkanov, told a 
press conference the next day that his men had come across a group of men 
driving moving a herd of horses through the Sut-Bulak mountain pass towards 
Kyrgyzstan. When challenged, the intruders opened fire, and the Kazak troops 
shot back in self-defence. One arrest was made and 20 horses and three firearms 
were seized.

Cholponbek Turusbekov, deputy chief of Kyrgyzstan’s border protection force, 
confirmed that the Kyrgyz citizens had entered the neighbouring state illegally.

But he said it was not clear who had fired first. He said a local man who 
escaped from the firefight later told the Kyrgyz authorities that he and his 
friends were bringing the horses back from summer pastureland, and they were 
armed as they were planning to hunt marmots.

In the second incident, which happened 15 kilometres away the same day, Kazak 
frontier forces detained five people who were driving livestock into Kazakstan.

Turusbekov confirmed that Kazakstan scaled back its security measures such as 
reinforced patrols this week, and said things seemed to be getting back to 

Nevertheless, eight of the 12 border checkpoints still remained closed, and 
Turusbekov said his agency had contacted its Kazak counterparts to ask when the 
border would be fully open.

Nur Omarov, a political analyst in Bishkek, told IWPR the border had always 
been porous and ill-defined, and the two confrontations probably only occurred 
because the Kazaks had deployed more men on the ground.

“The Kyrgyz-Kazak border has always been regarded as the most peaceful of 
frontiers, and has acquired a reputation for being easy to cross,” he said.

Omarov said people living in border areas remained largely oblivious of 
changing realities, and in many cases there were no signposts to tell them 
which country they were in when they moved around mountain areas.

“I think it’s possible that the Kyrgyz were moving their herd from one ‘jailoo’ 
[summer pasture] to another, and just got confused and strayed into foreign 
territory,” Omarov said.

Eduard Poletaev, an analyst and journalist in Almaty, Kazakstan, told IWPR that 
scrutiny of cross-border activity was likely to remain rigorous from now on, 
not because of perceived security risks in Kyrgyzstan but because of the 
requirements imposed by the new trilateral customs union.

An agreement signed by the presidents of Russia, Kazakstan and Belarus on July 
5 formally introduced a single customs regime for all three countries. It forms 
a significant part of the regulatory architecture for a customs union which has 
been in place since January, and which is intended to lead to a common market 
with a combined population of some 170 million.

One direct consequence is that Kyrgyzstan is now an outsider, and will face 
higher customs duties for trade with Kazakstan.

“As a customs union member, Kazakstan will have to intensify checking 
procedures on the border with Kyrgyzstan so as to prevent smuggling,” Poletaev 

Until now, Kyrgyzstan has benefited from its position as trade intermediary 
between Kazakstan and China. The large Dordoi market outside Bishkek has served 
as a clearing-house for consumer goods from the east, helped by the fact that 
Kyrgyzstan and China are both members of the World Trade Organisation, unlike 
Kazakstan. The arrival of the customs union is likely to slice into the 
profitability of shifting goods onwards from Kyrgyzstan to markets in 
Kazakstan, which used to take place relatively unhindered.

The head of Kyrgyzstan’s Association of Markets, Trade and Service Businesses, 
Sergei Ponomarev, says exporting to Kazakstan has become tougher ever since the 
customs union came into force at the beginning of the year.

One positive effect, though, is that Kazak customs officials are much less 
likely to let undeclared goods pass in exchange for a bribe.

“There used to be much more covert trading, whereas since January the amount of 
smuggling has gone down,” Ponomarev said.

Bishkek-based analyst Orozbek Moldaliev agrees that a new era has arrived and 
people will have to adjust to it.

“People here [in Kyrgyzstan] were accustomed to crossing the border wherever 
was most convenient for them. Now they’re going to have to cross only where 
they are allowed to,” he said.

Ainagul Abdrakhmanova is an IWPR-trained reporter; Yaroslava Naumenko is a 
journalist in Kazakstan.

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