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.
This week on War & Peace, post-Soviet security expert Dr Erica Marat joins Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope to discuss the drivers of anti-establishment protests and the policing thereof across Central Asia and globally.
Govt and Uzbekistan struck deal to resolve longstanding border disputes while lawmakers approved April referendum on constitutional reforms. Following state visit to Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent, President Japarov and Uzbek President Mirziyoyev 12 March agreed to complete demarcation of sections of border within three months and improve access between Uzbekistan and its exclave of Sokh inside Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz and Uzbek PMs 25 March approved deal that includes land swaps and opening multiple checkpoints to improve access in and out of Sokh exclave; head of Kyrgyz security services next day said “issues around the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border have been resolved 100 percent” and “there is not a single patch of disputed territory left”. Separately, Tajik and Kyrgyz officials 15-18 March held talks on demarcation of Kyrgyz-Tajik border and agreed to hold further talks, which took place on 26 March. Meanwhile, lawmakers 11 March approved referendum, scheduled for 11 April, on constitutional amendments that include greater powers for president and reducing number of lawmakers from 120 to 90; President Japarov 15 March said “I believe this constitution will establish order in the country”. NGO Human Rights Watch 5 March criticised draft constitution, said it “undermines human rights norms and weakens checks and balances”. Dozens of protesters 9 March held rally in capital Bishkek against proposed amendments; police 15 March detained protest organiser Tilekmat Kudaibergenov. Govt 16 March repatriated 79 children born to Kyrgyz parents who in recent years travelled to Iraq to join Islamic State or other extremist groups; UN children agency UNICEF same day commended govt’s decision while U.S. said “Kyrgyz government deserves praise for its commitment to help the returned children”.
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.
Four Central Asian states – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – have argued over their water resources since the collapse of the Soviet Union. At times these disputes have seemed to threaten war. The forthcoming presidential summit in Astana can help banish that spectre.
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.