efforts slow to take off as tensions persist.  By Anara Yusupova, Isomiddin 

President Nazarbaev to stay on without election would be bad for democracy, 
critics say.  By Mirlan Telebarisov, Andrei Grishin

TURKMEN AUTHORITIES PLAY DOWN HIV/AIDS  Hard-to-credit official figures suggest 
infection rates are close to zero.  By IWPR Central Asia

TOUGH TIMES AHEAD FOR KYRGYZ COALITION  Survival of new government depends on 
party leaders keeping differences in check.  By Emir Kulov, Dina Tokbaeva

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Rebuilding and reconciliation efforts slow to take off as tensions persist.

By Anara Yusupova, Isomiddin Ahmedjanov

The wounds caused by last year’s ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan are 
still open, with mistrust between divided communities running deep, and local 
people worried for their security and their long-term future.

As the findings of a lengthy investigation into why the conflict happened began 
emerging, IWPR asked southern residents of various ethnicities, as well as 
political and economic experts in Kyrgyzstan, to give their view of how things 
stand just over six months after violence, looting and burning that left over 
400 people dead over several days.

The perception of continuing instability and the slow pace of economic recovery 
in and around the cities of Osh and Jalalabad are prompting a steady exodus 
that includes many ethnic Uzbeks but also Kyrgyz who feel their skills and 
education would be better applied elsewhere. The crisis has thus exacerbated 
the high rates of unemployment and out-migration from southern Kyrgyzstan, and 
the departure of many of the most capable is likely to de-skill the local 

A special commission has been probing the causes and consequences of the June 
2010 violence, but its findings – presented by its chairman Abdygany Erkebaev 
on January 11 – have come under fire from some non-government groups who say 
they are neither as thorough and even-handed as they had hoped.

In terms of bare facts, Erkebaev said 426 deaths had been verified, although 
the identities of only 381 individuals had been established. Of these, 276 were 
Uzbeks and 105 Kyrgyz. Another 2,200 people sustained injuries, while the 
economic damage caused by arson and looting was calculated at over 85 million 
US dollars.

According to Erkebaev, the commission laid most of the blame for starting the 
violence on Qodirjon Batirov, a businessman and a leading light in the Uzbek 
community, and on relatives of deposed president Kurmanbek Bakiev, who was 
forced out of office by popular unrest in April last year. Others implicated 
included organised crime groups, drug traffickers, religious extremists and 
unnamed “third forces” from outside the country.

The commission accused the interim administration that replaced Bakiev and the 
provincial and local authorities in the south for ignoring the signs of 
impending trouble. Parts of the security forces failed to prevent weapons being 
seized for use in the violence, it said.

When the full text of the report becomes available on January 17, it is likely 
to create some controversy if it takes the same approach as Erkebaev’s 
description of its contents.

One of the investigative commission’s members, lawyer Nurbek Toktakunov, has 
already distanced himself from the report and refused to sign it, saying it was 
superficial and failed to address the handling of post-violence judicial 

"If our commission had expressed a view on the reports of torture and [other] 
violations of criminal-law procedures, the public could have come to hope that 
things might be different," he said.

Toktakunov earlier served as defence lawyer for Azimjon Askarov, a human rights 
activist of Uzbek background who has been given a life sentence on charges of 
inciting disturbances.

An alternative report produced by the Osh Initiative, a coalition of Uzbek and 
Kyrgyz rights activists, indicated that ethnic Uzbeks were systematically 
targeted in attacks, and were then turned into the culprits through 
prosecutions primarily directed at them.

Southern Uzbeks interviewed prior to Erkebaev’s remarks said they felt let down 
by central government, which had failed to protect them, and by local 
authorities who appeared to give tacit approval for portraying the Uzbek 
community as disproportionately responsible for the conflict, despite it 
bearing the brunt of the violence.

For both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south, the trauma and economic slump created 
by the 2010 violence are still a reality.

Official statistics indicate that over 37,000 people left the area via Osh area 
in the first three months after the clashes, but as political analyst Ikbol 
Mirsaitov points out, that figure does not capture the total number. He 
estimates that more than half of those who left were Uzbeks, most of them 
leaving Kyrgyzstan for places like Russia. Kyrgyz, too, were moving out, but 
often to the north of the country, where the capital Bishkek is located.

Inter-communal tensions remain, and people interviewed by IWPR said the sense 
of separation was feeding mistrust and suspicion, and was one of the factors 
holding back economic recovery.

An Uzbek businessman who used to have a café in Osh told IWPR he was now back 
in the city, but only for as long as it took to settle his affairs before he 
left for Russia for ever.

He described what made him leave in a hurry. "Several days after I reopened my 
business in August, in the wake of the conflict, several criminals came to see 
me. They threatened with a pistol and demanded that I hand over the café to 
them,” he said, adding that they insulted him with ethnic slurs. “I got out the 
same day – with my wife and three children, I packed and left for Russia, where 
we have relatives."

A builder from Osh who gave his name as Abdumalik said he was finding it harder 
and harder to maintain his family both because there was less commercial 
activity and because he was no longer able to travel freely to take jobs.

“I can’t work outside the district where I live. I fear for my life and 
safety,” he said. “Sometimes I just want to give it all up and head off to 

A truck driver called Hikmatillo, also from Osh, expressed similar concerns.

"Ever since June, many people have been living in fear of a repeat of the 
conflict…. Some [Uzbeks] are selling their family homes,” he said. “People are 
saying that when spring comes, another contingent will leave.”

Marat Nuraliev, a businessman from Jalalabad, said there was a degree of return 
to normality but people were still very jumpy.

"People panicked at the sound of firecrackers and bangers on New Year Eve... 
there’s a sense of danger, of the expectation of something bad,” he said.

While neither Kyrgyz nor Uzbeks were thirsty for revenge, "there’s tension 
there – they look at each other askance, with animosity", he said.

Nuraliev warned against having a false sense of security, saying winter was 
generally a quiet time anyway, but if basic economic problems like the 
availability of petrol and crop seed were not addressed, spring could see “the 
south explode again". Popular unhappiness could be exploited by a range of 
forces with an axe to grind – Bakiev supporters, Islamic militants, and drug 

Mirsaitov said the authorities were trying to stimulate economic recovery, but 
measures like tax breaks would not help until people felt the situation was 
secure enough to take advantage of them.

Zumrad Tanakova, who has a small shop in Osh, confirmed this was the case.

“Although the government provided a six-month grace period when it did not 
collect taxes, there’s no way these taxes could have been paid anyway, since 
practically nothing is working,” she said.

At the same time, comments by other interviewees suggest cautious optimism 
about future thanks to rebuilding work and government support for families and 
businesses affected by the violence.

Among Uzbeks, though, confidence in the authorities does not extend to the 
law-enforcement agencies or the courts which are trying alleged participants in 
the violence.

Hikmatillo, the truck driver, said there could be no peace and reconciliation 
between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz unless the real perpetrators of the violence were 
brought to justice in an unbiased judicial process.

Others expressed concern at a campaign to promote the Kyrgyz language. In 
December, Osh regional governor Sooronbay Jeenbekov instructed local government 
institutions agencies to conduct all business in Kyrgyz, as opposed to Russian 
which is also an official language and is widely used as lingua franca among 
different groups.

Kyrgyzstan’s government has long striven to promote the use of the state 
language. In this case, it is the timing of the move that has created quiet 
resentment among Uzbeks, who questioned the symbolism of the campaign and the 
need for it at a time when so many other urgent needs had to be addressed.

Despite the challenges facing the south, Mirsaitov remains optimistic.

"There is a widespread view that the two communities will be able to come to 
terms. The main thing is for politics not to get in the way here,” he said.

Anara Yusupova is a pseudonym for a journalist in Bishkek. Isomidin Ahmedjanov 
is an IWPR-trained journalist in Osh.

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.


Referendum allowing President Nazarbaev to stay on without election would be 
bad for democracy, critics say.

By Mirlan Telebarisov, Andrei Grishin

Although Kazak president Nursultan Nazarbaev has vetoed a bill to extend his 
term in office until 2020 – avoiding the need for an election next year – 
parliament may still insist on the move when it meets on January 14.

Critics of plans for a referendum prolonging Nazarbaev’s current term to 2020 
say it would be a blow to democracy.

They suspect the president’s demurral, which came in the form of a decree 
issued on January 6, is just a ploy, and believe parliament will push through 
the change anyway by securing the required 80 per cent majority.

Formally raised in parliament in Decmber, the referendum plan originated among 
a group of public figures from East Kazakstan region, led by the rector of 
Semey State University, Yerlan Sydykov.

Speaking to reporters on January 10, Sydykov said that more than four million 
people – in other words four out of ten voting-age Kazak citizens – had signed 
up in support of holding a referendum. This far exceeds the 200,000 signatures 
needed for a referendum to take place.

Now 70, Nazarbaev has ruled Kazakstan continuously since he was elected 
president of the newly-independent state in 1991. A referendum in 1995 extended 
his term in office, and he went on to win elections in 1999 and 2005, the last 
time for an extended seven instead of five years.

While future presidents will be restricted to two terms, a constitutional 
change from 2007 allows Nazarbaev to run as many times as he wants.

Supporters of extending Nazarbaev’s current term say he is irreplaceable for 
the moment.

Amzebek Jolshibekov, who chairs the parliamentary committee for international 
affairs, defence and security, sees Nazarbaev as the guarantor of peace and 

He argues that Kazakstan has no need to subject itself to the kind of unrest 
which has ousted presidents in other Soviet republics.

Political analysts and opposition activists in Kazakstan believe the referendum 
is almost inevitable despite the president’s veto. They recall that Nazarbaev 
refused to sign a bill last year granting him numerous privileges as “Leader of 
the Nation”, but the legislation went through anyway when it was signed by the 
prime minister and the speakers of both houses of parliament.

Serikbolsyn Abdildin, former leader of the Communist Party of Kazakstan, 
believes Nazarbaev is merely trying to distance himself from a plan that might 
look embarrassing abroad.

“The president has sent out a message to the international community to say he 
is not a dictator or a monarch,” Abdildin said.

Protest against the referendum were led by NGOs and opposition groups, which 
said the plan violated the basic civil right to elect one’s leaders.

Six people were arrested in the western city of Uralsk during a January 6 
demonstration organised by a group made up of journalists and members of the 
opposition Alga party. Two were given five days in jail each for resisting 
arrest, while the others were fined.

The NGO coalition Kazakstan-OSCE 2010 issued a statement on January 13 calling 
for the 2012 election to be held according to schedule.

The Almaty-based human rights group Ar-Rukh-Hak organised an online 
counter-petition, publicised on the website of opposition newspaper Respublika 
on January 11 called public to sign up.

Acknowledging that only 400 people had signed up so far, the group’s head 
Bakytjan Toregojina ascribed this to an “atmosphere of political pressure”.

Toregojina is among those who have accused organisers of the referendum 
petition of coercing people into signing the pro-referendum document.

Many residents of Almaty interviewed by IWPR confirmed that they had been 
approached and asked to sign.

An employee of a marketing agency said she signed after her office manager put 
pressure on her, saying a friend at the Kazak justice ministry had been tasked 
with gathering signatures and had asked her to help.

Another Almaty resident who works for a major electronics firm said managers 
there made it mandatory for staff to provide their passport details for the 

A housewife who gave her first name as Elana said she had seen how details of 
pupils at her daughter’s school were taken down by one of the parents for 
inclusion in the list.

“Frankly, people didn’t make an attempt to find out what it was all about, and 
it looked as though they didn’t even care,” she said, admitting she had signed 
the petition herself.

Another mother, Bakhyt, said her daughter’s teacher had asked for her ID 
details so her name could be put down. Bakhyt refused to do so, saying she was 
free not to.

Mikhail Panin, who is deputy rector of the teacher-training institute in Semey 
and one of the architects of the referendum proposal, denied that anyone had 
been forced to sign.

“We repeated over and over at meetings and conferences that no one has the 
right to coerce anyone; this is about an expression of citizens’ free will,” he 

Mirlan Telebarisov is a freelance reporter in Kazakstan. Andrei Grishin is a 
staff member at the Kazakstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law.


Hard-to-credit official figures suggest infection rates are close to zero.

By IWPR Central Asia

Health experts in Turkmenistan warn that blanket denials that the country has 
an HIV/AIDS problem will do nothing to curb the spread of the virus.

Unlike other Central Asian states, Turkmenistan is not listed in the 2010 
Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic compiled by the United Nations agency, as 
the national authorities did not submit information.

The general approach is to deny there is a problem. The government marked World 
AIDS Day on December 1, for example, with a statement that “Turkmenistan is 
among those world countries where this terrible disease has not spread”.

According to official statistics, Turkmenistan has only had two recorded cases 
of HIV infection in the last two decades.

A commentator in the capital Ashgabat said healthcare workers were too fearful 
to talk about HIV/AIDS in public.

“But unofficially, doctors acknowledge that the problem exists and they doubt 
the figures that are cited are accurate,” he said.

A doctor in Turkmenistan agreed that it was hard to credit official data 
suggesting there were virtually no cases of HIV. “Look how many sex workers and 
drug addicts we have. In a situation like that, how is it possible to say with 
conviction that we don’t have AIDS here?” he asked.

“Doctors try to maintain silence on AIDS cases. It’s a taboo disease,” an 
analyst based in the northern Dashoguz region said. “Medical staff record cases 
as colds, hepatitis, typhus or cholera.”

In a report last April, the international medical assistance group Médecins 
Sans Frontières, which operated in Turkmenistan until it was forced out at the 
end of 2009, said healthcare workers risked dismissal or even imprisonment if 
they failed to manipulate records to keep them in line with official health 

“It is undeniable that tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections 
including HIV/AIDS are more prevalent than reported figures would suggest and 
the Turkmen government is refusing to acknowledge this reality,” a press 
release accompanying the report said.

There is little independently-sourced information about HIV/AIDS incidence. The 
Vienna-based Turkmenistan Initiative for Human Rights, TIHR, said 68 
HIV-positive individuals had been identified in the Caspian port city of 

The report noted that the city had significant numbers of sex workers, seen as 
a high-risk group especially in cases where illegal drug use involved sharing 

Turkmenistan has a long border with Afghanistan, and is one of the transit 
routes for heroin shipped to Russia and the rest of Europe. Again, the 
government has dealt with rising heroin use mainly by not talking about it.

The Turkmen government ascribes its success in keeping HIV/AIDS at bay to 
extensive preventive programmes and awareness-raising work among healthcare 
workers and other institutions.

Last September a National AIDS Prevention Centre opened, which the authorities 
say offers anonymous testing and the capacity to treat 20 in-patients.

UNAIDS is currently funding 36 testing laboratories and training HIV/AIDS 
specialists, but the Turkmen doctor interviewed for this report said the 
project will end in March 2011, apparently due to disagreements with the 

“After that, we will face a real problem,” the doctor warned.

Analysts say preventive measures cannot be effective if the government will not 
admit that HIV is present in the country. They argue that awareness campaigns 
have focused on healthcare workers rather than the general population, and have 
not properly addressed issues like the role of condoms in preventing infection 
and the risk of transmission through breastfeeding.

“There is no education campaign among HIV-positive people, so there have been 
cases of ‘vertical infection’ where the virus spreads from a breastfeeding 
mother to her child,” an analyst based in the country said.

Interviewees also noted that that the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS meant many 
people were keen to conceal their status and would happily bribe doctors to 
give them the all-clear.

A local journalist who covers health issues said that even when a positive 
diagnosis took place at a clinic, the individual involved did not receive 
appropriate treatment because of the atmosphere of denial and because 
specialist doctors and medicines had not been put in place.

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.


Survival of new government depends on party leaders keeping differences in 

By Emir Kulov, Dina Tokbaeva

As the long-awaited government in Kyrgyzstan sets its priorities for its first 
few months in office, analysts say the diverse composition of the coalition 
will make it hard to tackle the numerous political, security and economic 
challenges facing it. 

The long and uncertain wait following parliamentary elections in October 
finally ended in December with the approval of a cabinet consisting of Ata Jurt 
and the Social Democratic Party, which came first and second in the ballot, 
respectively, and Respublika, which came fourth. Together they hold 77 of the 
120 seats in parliament, well above the 50 per cent margin required to hold 

The coalition partners make surprising bedfellows. Ata Jurt describes its 
stance as “national patriotic” and emerged last year in opposition to the 
interim administration which came to power following the ousting of President 
Kurmanbek Bakiev in a popular uprising in April. At the time, that made it a 
natural adversary of the Social Democrats, who held key positions in the 
transitional administration.

After the election, most analysts predicted that two blocs would compete for 
the right to form a government, one of them bringing together Ata Jurt together 
with the third-placed Ar Namys, and the other consisting of the Social 
Democrats and Ata-Meken, which had also been part of the interim government. 
Winning over Respublika, a newish party, was seen as key to the success of 
either bloc.

The first coalition to emerge was indeed made up of the Social Democrats and 
Ata-Meken plus Respublika, but it foundered at the first hurdle when some of 
its members of parliament were among the majority who refused to approve its 
choice of speaker.

A further round of negotiations produced the current alignment, which 
successfully got its candidates through votes in mid-December, with Social 
Democrat leader Almazbek Atambaev selected as prime minister and Ata Jurt 
parliamentary leader Ahmatbek Keldibekov becoming the speaker. Respublika’s 
leader, Omurbek Babanov, was made first deputy prime minister.

The establishment of a functioning government is just the start on the 
difficult road to overcoming the many challenges facing Kyrgyzstan.

The election followed months of political turbulence which began with the 
ejection of President Bakiev in April and reached a peak in June with 
widespread ethnic clashes in and around the southern cities of Osh and 
Jalalabad, which left over 400 dead and caused massive devastation.

Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan’s already fragile economy continues to reel from the 
blows dealt to it by the multiple effects of global financial crisis, ranging 
from a downturn in trade to falling demand for its migrant labour force in 
countries like Russia.

Analysts say fundamental differences of approach among the three coalition 
parties will inevitably resurface as they set about formulating policies to 
when they negotiate the common approach on policies. The highly personalised 
nature of Kyrgyz politics will make compromises especially difficult.

The stakes are high because in the new new-shape parliament, which stems from a 
constitutional referendum held in July 2010, the coalition enjoys more powers 
than previous governing blocs.

Kadyr Malikov, head of the Religion, Law and Politics Centre in Bishkek, says 
the new cabinet needs to agree immediate actions such as how to ensure that 
public-sector wages and benefits are paid. Yet decisions on economic and 
security matters alike are going to be hard to reach, since each party has its 
own vision of the future.

But he warns, “There is no common mechanism by which the coalition can 
function. The parties have different programmes, and different approaches to 
economics and to shaping the budget. The coalition has distributed the 
[ministerial] portfolios but mistrust still exists between the parties within 
it. Each party also has its own internal groupings that don’t trust one 

Much will depend on the willingness of party leaders to give ground, and also 
on the behaviour of individual members of parliament, Malikov said.

Pavel Dyatlenko, a political analyst with the Polis Asia think-tank, predicts 
that the coalition government will face tough times through the winter and 
spring, and says its survival will depend on success in areas such as securing 
financial aid from foreign governments and international organisations, 
reviving the economy, and strengthening the control of central government over 
regional leaders, informal political elites and the law enforcement agencies.

One positive move came when Prime Minister Atambaev visited Russia at the end 
of December, securing agreement from Moscow to lift export duties on fuel sales 
to Kyrgyzstan from January 1.

Providing it lasts through the cold season, Dyatlenko forecasts that the 
coalition government will remain in place until October 2011, when a 
presidential election is due.

As well as economics, security matters will also feature high on the 
parliamentary agenda.

Malikov said one immediate issue to be dealt with was the threat posed by armed 
militants. On January 5, three armed men and a member of the security services 
died when police mounted an operation against a suspected Islamic radical group 
in a village outside Bishkek. The group is believed to have been behind the 
murder of three policemen the day before, a bombing near the venue of a 
high-profile trial on November 30, and an attempted bomb attack outside the 
capital’s police headquarters on December 24.

Despite the difficult circumstances the government is operating in, Medet 
Tyulegenov, senior lecturer in comparative international politics at the 
American University in Central Asia in Bishkek, remains cautiously optimistic 
about its chances, arguing that coalition members are displaying a pragmatic 
approach to making government work.

At the same time, Tyulegenov warned that the coalition would stray into 
difficult territory when it came to rendering an account of last June’s 
violence, which a parliamentary commission is currently investigating.

During debates, the Social Democrats could find itself under fire through its 
association with the interim government, which has been accused of not doing 
enough to prevent the conflict. Ata-Jurt, meanwhile, will be on the other side 
of the fence as it was not in power at the time and made a name for itself by 
organising aid shipments to southern Kyrgyzstan.

The government is already facing its first practical test with a threat by 
teachers to go on strike unless their salaries are raised fourfold by the end 
of January. The ultimatum follows protests last month by thousands of secondary 
schoolteachers across Kyrgyzstan.

The government says it cannot afford the pay rise, even though the amount the 
teachers are asking for comes to an average of 40 US dollars a month.

Healthcare workers have also issued a statement demanding a wage increase.

Emir Kulov is IWPR editor for Kyrgyzstan, Dina Tokbaeva is IWPR’s regional 
editor for Central Asia. Additional reporting provided by Askar Erkebaev, a 
Kloop.kg reporter in Bishkek, and Timur Toktonaliev, an IWPR-trained 
correspondent in Bishkek.

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.

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