Despite their assassinations in recent months, Jyrgalbek Surabaldiyev, Bayaman
Erkinbayev, and Tynychbek Akmatbayev remain influential in Kyrgyz politics. Now the
slain parliamentarians’ closest family members are struggling for power.
Surabaldiyev’s nephew, Erkinbayev’s widow, and Akmatbayev’s brother are going to
compete for their loved ones’ now-vacant parliamentary seats in December. None of
these people are known for significant politician achievements or specialize in any
particular field that would make them competent to serve in the parliament. But all
of them have strong local power bases because they control major economic sectors in
their constituencies. The blood ties between the slain parliamentarians and those
seeking to replace them may ensure unbroken political power in Kyrgyzstan.
Surabaldiyev owned several large businesses and had strong authority and a criminal
reputation in his electoral district. Zhanysh Kudaibergenov, Surabaldiyev’s close
relative, will compete with Roza Otunbayeva in the Tunduk electoral district.
Otunbayeva was one of the leaders of the Tulip Revolution, then acting foreign
minister, but was denied a ministry nomination by the parliament. Surbaldiyev’s
daughter, Elvira Surabaldiyeva, participated in the demonstrations against Prime
Minister Felix Kulov, protests that were organized by Rysbek Akmatbayev, brother of
Tynychbek Akmatbayev. Elvira maintains that members of Bakiyev’s government gunned
down her father (see EDM, June 16). Along with Kudaibergenov, former prime minister
Nikolai Tanayev, who was ousted along with president Askar Akayev in March, will
also compete for a parliamentary seat in Tunduk district.
Erkinbayev’s widow, Cholponai Chotonova, owns the economically and politically
important Khalmion market in Batken oblast. Erkinbayev’s family is among the richest
and most influential in southern Kyrgyzstan. According to Kabar news, a series of
charity events during Ramadan were perceived by the local population as the
beginning of Chotonova’s electoral campaign (November 18).
Rysbek Akmatbayev evidently has ties in the government and is able to shield himself
from legal prosecution for multiple alleged crimes, including murder. His trial has
been suspended, and many Kyrgyz observers are convinced that Rysbek will be
acquitted of the charges and be able to win a parliamentary seat from Balykchy
district due to his unlimited local authority. Then as an MP, he will become legally
immune from any charges he faced before (see EDM, October 25).
Criminal elements can exert strong pressure on the work of the government, revealing
internal splits among various political forces. The Prosecutor-General is unable to
effectively limit organized crime sprees or to put key mafia chiefs behind bars. At
the same time, competing criminal groups support specific politicians and public
institutions, while trying to disrupt the work of law-enforcement agencies. Although
the work of the Kyrgyz militia and the National Security Service is generally
efficient against small criminal groups, their performance is lacking on a larger
scale, particularly when economic resources are combined with family relations.
Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan experienced more political assassinations in the past week. On
November 18, Esenbek Dzeencheriyev, an ally of Usen Kudaibergenov, a famous Kyrgyz
actor assassinated shortly after the March 24 Revolution allegedly for supporting
Kulov, was shot dead in Bishkek. Two men accompanying Dzeencheriyev were also
injured. According to several Kyrgyz experts, it is likely that Rysbek, who is
convinced that Kulov is guilty in the death of his brother, Tynychbek, is involved
in the murder of Kudaibergenov and Dzeencheriyev.
Organized crime in Kyrgyzstan, besides blood connections on a local level, also has
a transnational dimension. A number of local criminal groupings are linked either by
ethnic or religious ties with similar elements in neighboring Central Asian states
and Russia. For example, religious radical movements can muster regional networks to
fuel illegal activities locally. Chechen, Uighur, Kazakh, and a number of other
ethnic-based networks have gained a foothold in various parts of Kyrgyzstan,
infiltrating local legal and illegal businesses, including drug trafficking.
The rapid criminalization of Kyrgyzstan stems from current government’s inability —
or lack of desire — to impose informal control over the country’s major economic
sectors. Unlike the Akayev era, when a small group within the government regulated
the bulk of financial resources, today several groups are competing for economic
dominance in the country. Such groups were suffocated under Akayev, but not
completely eliminated. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s government is fragile and
vulnerable to the influence of organized crime due to revived ambitions of criminal
elements. “The criminal world did not participate in the March 24 events, but
apparently had made the most out of the lack of the rule of law and order,”
according to Edil Baisalov, leader of NGO coalition “For Democracy and Civil
Society” (Akipress, November 10).
Against this background, the Kyrgyz mass media and elements of civil society are
working to report the showdowns between criminals and the government, an effort that
deserves particular appreciation. There is a cluster of newspapers and NGOs in
Kyrgyzstan that are genuinely independent of any influence by local legal and
illegal political forces. A class of neo-businessmen provoking domestic chaos cannot
affect the freedom of speech among independent Kyrgyz observers, analysts, and
activists. There are no clans within Kyrgyzstan’s progressive civil society.