On October 20, Kyrgyz parliamentarian Tynychbek Akmatbayev died following a prison riot in the 31st penal colony located 20 kilometers away from the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. He is the third lawmaker to be assassinated since the March 24 Tulip Revolution. Like the other two victims, Bayaman Erkinbayev and Jyrgalbek Surabaldiyev, Akmatbayev was a businessman known to have a criminal background. Despite denials from Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and Prime Minister Felix Kulov, the death of a parliamentarian has once again revealed direct links between the criminal and political worlds in Kyrgyzstan.
Akmatbayev headed a parliamentary committee on security, rule of law, and information policy. He and two assistants were shot dead during their visit to the prison to calm riots that had erupted among inmates. Following the murders, Akmatbayev’s older brother, Rysbek, allegedly the most influential mafia boss in the Issyk-Kul oblast, declared a jihad against Prime Minister Kulov. According to Rysbek, Kulov was pressing his brother to vacate the parliamentary committee’s chairmanship so head could install his own candidate.
Rysbek is convinced that Tynychbek died at the hands of his long-time foe, Aziz Batukayev, a mafia boss influential in the criminal circles in Chui Oblast, which includes Bishkek. A few days earlier Kulov had visited the prison and allegedly talked with Batukayev.
According to other versions, however, Akmatbayev came to the prison to discuss personal issues with Batukayev. Akmatbayev’s bodyguards and Batukayev were armed, and their conversation soon deteriorated into a gunfight. Akmatbayev reportedly fired the first shot.
During the reign of former president Askar Akayev, Rysbek was exiled for murder and illegal business. He was legally released under the anti-corruption policies of the new government that toppled Akayev in March. Rysbek’s release suggests that he has strong ties with some members of the new government.
Guided by the belief that Kulov has ties with Batukayev and the assassination was intentionally planned in advance, Rysbek actively recruited the crowds that have gathered in central Bishkek to protest against the prime minister since October 21. He has been seen walking among the 500 rioters, supplying them with food, water, and shelter in front of the parliament building. A few relatives and friends of Surabaldiev and Erkinbayev have also joined the crowds. In an interview with Akipress (October 22) Rysbek told he is determined to fight as long as it takes to secure Kulov’s dismissal.
In response, Kulov’s Ar-Namys party organized a “peace demonstration” on October 25. According to the party’s official statement, the action in support of Kulov is ongoing; possibly up to 10,000 more people will join it from different regions in the country. With this latest development, there currently are two simultaneous demonstrations held in Bishkek; one for and one against Kulov.
The Kyrgyz parliament convened an extraordinary session to discuss the possibility of dismissing the prime minister. Several lawmakers have openly affirmed Kulov’s involvement in Akmatbayev’s death. Kyrgyz experts suggest that parliament’s apparent intention to sack the prime minister is setting the stage for Bakiyev to remove Kulov with the help of the legislature. However, in an emergency meeting between the president, the prosecutor-general, and the Security Service, Bakiyev made no statements against Kulov.
Kulov himself has said that he would resign if the president and parliament find sufficient evidence of his alleged misconduct. He also mentioned that Bakiyev had told him to “continue to peacefully work in the government.” Both Bakiyev and Kulov strongly deny the allegations of political motives behind Akmatbayev’s assassination. The October 25 parliamentary session is to be broadcast live to the central square in Bishkek so that the demonstrators can follow the discussion of the issues around Akmatbayev’s assassination. The turmoil around Akmatbayev’s case has clearly strained the political bonds between Bakiyev and Kulov.
Three dead politicians in only five months are deeply disturbing developments for Kyrgyzstan. Many observers have rushed to blame the new government for weakness against criminals and for its inability to resist the influence of the mafia chiefs. But many analysts forget that the current parliament was formed by fraudulent means during Akayev’s leadership. There are a number of other lawmakers who fit the profile of successful businessmen with criminal overtones.
Meanwhile, corruption charges against Akayev have become an international issue. The U.S. FBI has initiated an investigation of the Akayev family’s secret bank accounts, financial assets, real estate holdings, and investments. According to Edward Lieberman, a lawyer helping the Kyrgyz government to probe Akayev’s graft, one of the areas of investigation is the money trail taking nearly $40 million from Manas airport to the New York-based Citibank.
Following the March 24 Revolution a balance between various criminal groups was apparently disturbed. The deaths of three parliamentarians point at the fact that organized crime, which has been building for many years, has now fused with the political sphere. It is becoming increasingly problematic to come up with an unambiguous interpretation of the recent political developments in Kyrgyzstan. Various criminal groups seem to support different political factions to protect their own interests. The next step may be civil clashes as influential criminals further press the parliament and government for favors.
(Akipress, Belyi Parohod, Gazeta.kg, Delo Nomer, Kabar, KTR, Vecherny Bishkek, October 20-25)