After his election as Kyrgyzstan’s president in October 2017, Sooronbai Jeenbekov inherited an economically uncertain state, which has failed to address more than twenty years of misrule despite emerging from two episodes of upheaval. Central Asia’s only nominal parliamentary democracy, Kyrgyzstan is divided along ethnic and regional lines, deeply corrupt and facing religious radicalisation in absence of a strong state. Crisis Group monitors ethnic and political tensions as well as wider regional relations.
The inauguration of Kyrgyzstan’s new president on 24 November is a tribute to the country’s parliamentary democracy. But to overcome continued vulnerability, Sooronbai Jeenbekov must manage powerful southern elites, define the role of religion in society and spearhead reconciliation with Central Asian neighbours Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Court 6 Dec sentenced former PM Sapar Isakov, close associate of former president Atambayev, to fifteen years imprisonment on corruption charges; Isakov appeared before court again 17 Dec to face new corruption charges. Interior Minister 13 Dec accused Atambayev of shooting dead security officer during 7 Aug raid on his compound by security forces. Court 10 Dec froze bank accounts of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other media following publication of story on alleged billion-dollar fraud scheme in country’s customs service implicating senior officials; court unfroze accounts three days later but media still face lawsuits. Hundreds of protesters rallied in Bishkek 18 Dec demanding more freedom of speech and examination of corruption claims; also demanded resignation of Prosecutor-General Otkurbek Jamshitov for not investigating case. State officials 20 Dec arrested Syrgak Kenzhebayev, partner of well-known anti-corruption activist Shirin Aitmatova on suspicion of fraud; Aitmatova claimed arrest as retaliatory move for her campaign against corruption. Clashes erupted along border with Tajikistan 18 Dec; six Kyrgyz nationals and three Tajik nationals reportedly wounded (see Tajikistan).
The rapid rise of alternative interpretations of Islam, often at odds with the state’s concept of traditional identity, are being fueled in part by endemic corruption and perceptions of incompetency. The government must end economic marginalisation and improve inadequate institutions, or risk not just threats to internal security but also the resurfacing of ethnic tensions.
Kyrgyzstan’s relative stability belies the country’s brittle Central Asian neighbourhood, simmering ethnic tensions, religious extremism and political frustration. Russia, the West and China share interests here, creating a unique opportunity to work together for Kyrgyzstan’s democratic development during and after the upcoming 4 October parliamentary elections.
Growing tensions in the Ferghana Valley are exacerbated by disputes over shared water resources. To address this, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan urgently need to step back from using water or energy as a coercive tool and focus on reaching a series of modest, bilateral agreements, pending comprehensive resolution of this serious problem.
China’s influence is growing rapidly in Central Asia at a time when the region is looking increasingly unstable.
Kyrgyzstan’s disregard for its Uzbek community is pushing the ethnic minority to a breaking point.
Without prompt, genuine and exhaustive measures to address the damage done by the pogroms, Kyrgyzstan risks another round of terrible violence.
If mishandled, [Kyrgyzstan's] election could shatter [the country's] facade of democracy. A fragile stability is at stake.
Crisis Group’s Publications Officer Julie David de Lossy, formerly a freelance photographer of Central Asia, travels to Kyrgyzstan to take a look through her camera lens at the context of our conflict-prevention work.