Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 49

On March 9, the Military Court of Kyrgyzstan upheld the Bishkek city military court’s January 22 sentence on Feliks Kulov, who is generally considered the strongest political rival to President Askar Akaev. Kulov has been sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of power during his tenure as National Security Minister in 1997-98. He was found guilty of creating an unlawful counterintelligence unit in that ministry, purchasing eavesdropping equipment in Moscow from unauthorized funds and using the equipment to listen in on government offices.

Kulov, 53, is a former official of the Kyrgyz SSR’s MVD with the rank of lieutenant general. After 1991 he occupied successively the posts of internal affairs minister, vice president of Kyrgyzstan, governor of his native Chu Region in the north of the country, national security minister and appointed mayor of Bishkek.

Throughout that period Kulov sought to build an institutional, financial and ultimately electoral base from which to challenge Akaev for the presidency. In 1999 Kulov resigned as mayor of the capital, founded the Ar-Namys [Dignity] political party and announced his intention to run for president. Shortly afterward he was arrested on the abuse of power charges which eventually led to conviction by the courts. The judicial proceedings went through some zigzags. Released from custody at one stage last year, Kulov was able to run for a parliamentary seat in the Kara-Buura district of the Talas Region in northern Kyrgyzstan, winning the first round but losing the runoff. He and his supporters complained of fraud, and hundreds of Kara-Buura residents took part in protest pickets in Bishkek for five consecutive months. Rearrested after the in March 2000 parliamentary elections, Kulov was tried by the Bishkek military court, acquitted and released in August, but rearrested and retried pursuant to the prosecution’s appeal and ultimately convicted.

Obvious flaws in the judicial proceedings have helped make Kulov an international cause celebre. Western governments and international organizations interceded on his behalf and are now certain to redouble efforts to secure a fair trial and acquittal. For many in the West, the treatment of Kulov became one of the yardsticks for judging Kyrgyzstan’s electoral and judicial systems and Akaev’s performance as president and guarantor of the constitution.

A few scores of Kulov’s relatives–up to 100 by one count–joined the protests on his behalf and have threatened to apply for political asylum in Western countries. Kulov’s brother Marsel has been forced to resign as a colonel of the Internal Affairs Ministry. The Kulovs’ background is in the ex-Soviet and Chekist nomenklatura. In the words of the human rights campaigner Tursunbek Akunov–who was the only nonleftist candidate in the last presidential elections–“Kulov was never an opposition figure. For eight years he held some of the highest posts in Kyrgyzstan and always served the authorities.”

As a presidential aspirant and party leader, Kulov counted primarily on the Russian/”Russian-speaking” population of Bishkek and other towns with residual Soviet-era industry and labor force. Kulov–a russified Kyrgyz with a poor knowledge of the native language–called for conferring official status on the Russian language in the constitution and demonstratively refused to take the native language test which is required of presidential candidates. That gesture disqualified him from the race.

The main electoral allies of Kulov and of his Ar-Namys Party in 1999-2000 were the Socialist Fatherland Party [Ata-Meken] of Omurbek Tekerbaev and one of the two Communist Parties that are active in Kyrgyzstan. In common with some other candidates for office, Kulov promised voters a “renewed socialism.” In sum, Kulov may well be a victim of political or judicial persecution, but he and his party hardly represent a democratic alternative for Kyrgyzstan (Kyrgyzpress International, Kyrgyz News, March 6-7, 9; Sultan Jumagulov, “Kulov Conviction Appeal” and Cholpon Orozbekova, “Kulov Faces Grim Incarceration,” Institute for War and Peace Reporting/Central Asia, no. 38, January 30 and no. 43, March 8).

{Correction: The Moldova story in Friday’s issue of the Monitor (Vol. VII, No. 48) incorrectly referred to Yevgeny Primakov as head of Russia’s Unity Party. Primakov heads the Fatherland-All Russia Party. Sergei Shoigu heads the Unity Party.]

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