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.
Activists detained for protesting border delimitation agreement with Uzbekistan went on hunger strike; U.S. and EU raised concerns with govt about circumvention of sanctions on Russia.
Jailed activists launched hunger strike. Six activists detained late Oct for protesting border demarcation agreement that handed Kempir-Abad water reservoir to Uzbekistan 22 Aug launched hunger strike amid ongoing court hearings.
Western powers urged govt to tackle efforts to circumvent sanctions. U.S. Senator and Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez 8 Aug sent letter to President Japarov condemning govt’s “complicit facilitation of trade with Russia in products that implicate sanctions” and urging it to “establish more reliable processes to prevent the illicit flow of goods” to Russia. Delegation from EU’s Foreign Affairs Committee 21-25 Aug visited Kyrgyzstan as well as Kazakhstan, where “issues of the circumvention of sanctions featured prominently” during exchanges with politicians and other stakeholders. Following visit, EU Foreign Affairs Committee Chair David McAllister said “allowing sanction circumvention feeds the Russian war machine” and praised govt’s “readiness… to work with the EU on this issue”.
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.
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.
While Kyrgyzstan’s 15 October elections are a rare milestone for Central Asian democracy, the campaign is exposing dangerous fault lines. In the largest city of Osh, the new president will have to face down robust local power brokers, defuse Uzbek-Kyrgyz tensions and re-introduce the rule of law.
Recent political protests in Kyrgyzstan signal the possibility of deeper trouble ahead of presidential elections in November. For the first time in the country’s pro-independence history, there is real competition for leadership in Central Asia’s only semi-functioning democracy.
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.
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.
Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.