WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 623, July 29, 2010 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 Naumenko **** NEW ************************************************************************************ VACANCIES AVAILABLE: http://iwpr.net/what-we-do/vacancies **** IWPR RESOURCES ****************************************************************** CENTRAL ASIA PROGRAMME HOME: http://www.iwpr.net/programme/central-asia IWPR COMMENT: IWPR COMMENT: http://iwpr.net/report-news/editorial-comment BECOME A FAN OF IWPR ON FACEBOOK http://facebook.com/InstituteforWarandPeaceReporting FOLLOW US ON TWITTER http://twitter.com/iwpr **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** RSS FEEDS: http://iwpr.net/syndication/builder DONATE TO IWPR: http://iwpr.net/donate **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** STORY BEHIND THE STORY 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 dont 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 youre not with us youre 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 ground 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 wont be needed again. Isomidin Ahmedjanov is an IWPR-trained reporter. KYRGYZ PARTIES GEAR UP FOR ELECTION High stakes for political groups seeking power in stronger parliament By Timur Toktonaliev, Yevgenia Kim While Kyrgyzstans 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 violence. 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 months 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 competition. 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 merge. 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 Peoples 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 months 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. Theyre 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 thats 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 tarnished. These parties, Ibraimov said, are only just gathering pace, so its 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 parliament. 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 Isakovs 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 partys 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 doesnt happen in Kyrgyzstan at the moment, Kazakpaev said. Parties are still weak, as they should have constant funding sources but dont 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 Kyrgyzstans 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. 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 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 Kyrgyzstan. 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 Kazakstans 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 Kyrgyzstans 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 normal. 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 its 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 added. 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 Kyrgyzstans 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 theyre 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. **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local journalists, the service publishes news and analysis from across Central Asia on a weekly basis. The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty, Bishkek, Tashkent and London, which supports media development and encourages better local and international understanding of the region. IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Community Fund. 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