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.
On disputed border with Tajikistan, unknown assailants night of 9 to 10 Jan threw stones at cars and a house, reportedly injuring some citizens in Batken region; border guards intervened and gunshots were fired but unclear from which side. Incident led to evacuation of over 200 people from Damkha village near location of clashes, and fuelled accusations on both Kyrgyz and Tajik sides over who started incident; 14 Jan prompted talks between Kyrgyz and Tajik officials on process of land exchange; sides established joint working group to decide on demarcation of 114-km border by 15 Feb. Amid ongoing concerns over press freedom, unidentified men 9 Jan assaulted editor in chief of local investigative and anti-corruption website Factcheck near his office in capital Bishkek, police 14 Jan charged four suspects. Hearing of libel lawsuit against local media outlets which had reported on corruption allegations, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz Service (known as Azattyk) and news site Kloop, started 20 Jan, then postponed to 29 Jan. Court 9 Jan ruled that trial of former president Atambayev, charged for illegal release in 2013 of high-profile convicted criminal, would continue in abstentia; Atambayev denies charges, refuses to attend trial.
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.