Despite the predictions of Kyrgyz and international analysts, the swift arrest and sentencing of the three Kyrgyzstani lawmakers who tried to capture the parliament building did not spark serious riots.
On October 3, opposition party Ata-Jurt and parliamentary members Sadyr Zhaparov and Kamchibek Tashiyev galvanized a crowd of around 500 protesters in Bishkek who were demanding the nationalization of the Kumtor gold mine to storm the parliament. That evening, Zhaparov, Tashiyev and a third parliamentarian, Talant Mamitov, were arrested on suspicion of trying to seize power. Because political struggles in the Central Asian republic are strongly connected to regional confrontations, many analysts predicted serious tensions would erupt in Kyrgyzstan’s south (the homeland of Tashiyev and Mamitov) and in the Issyk-Kul region (the homeland of Zhaparov) (see EDM, October 5). And at the outset of the mass protests, the events appeared to confirm this gloomy prognosis.
On October 4, around 1,000 supporters of the detained lawmakers blockaded the Osh-Bishkek highway in southern Jalal-Abad province, demanding the release of the detained lawmakers. The Tyan Shan mountain range divides Southern and Northern Kyrgyzstan, and the Osh-Bishkek highway is the only road linking the South with the North. But, on October 5, the authorities convinced the demonstrators to unblock the strategic road, and most protestors went home. And a court’s decision on the same day to prolong the arrest of the lawmakers by two months sparked no widespread reaction from the public. Furthermore, the speaker of the Ata-Jurt party (the arrested lawmakers are leaders of this organization), Nurgaza Aytiev, officially declared that his party did not plan to stage any rallies in support of the arrested parliament members (Ferghananews.com, October 5).
However, some protests against the arrest are continuing. Twenty three relatives of the detained politicians have gone on a hunger strike in the city of Jalal-Abad in Southern Kyrgyzstan. Also, 23 people are on a hunger strike in the village of Tupe (the homeland of Sadyr Zhaparov) in the Issyk-Kul province. Additionally, around ten relatives of the former military prosecutor, Kubatbek Kozhonaliyev, who was also arrested in connection with the events on October 3, gathered outside the government building in Bishkek to support him (24.kg, October 15). “The number of demonstrators is surprisingly small. Most analysts predicted larger-scale protests. This is not the protest of the people, but rather that of relatives. In this situation, the ‘revolutionaries’ [the imprisoned lawmakers] will not receive any leniency,” Daniil Kislov, the director of the Ferghana news agency told Jamestown on October 14.
In trying to understand the actual implication of the abortive October 3 lawmakers’ rebellion, it is important to note that the protest was not supported by the Mayor of Osh (the capital of southern Kyrgyzstan), Melis Myrzakmatov. One of most influential politicians of southern Kyrgyzstan, Myrzakmatov has frequently demonstrated his independence from Bishkek and often plays on North-South cleavages—the Osh mayor has claimed that “Northerners” considered “Southerners” savages. He is in open confrontation with the Kyrgyzstani President Almazbek Atambayev. For example, Myrzakmatov claims that the president is responsible for the ethnic clashes that erupted in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010 (Ferghananews.com, March 1, 2010). Mayor Myrzakmatov is also a radical nationalist. In 2011, Myrzakmatov published a book entitled “In Search of the Truth. The Osh Tragedy: Documents, Facts, Appeals, and Declarations,” both in Kyrgyz and Russian. In this book, he took a radical anti-Uzbek approach and portrayed Uzbeks as a separatist group, stressing the need for non-Kyrgyz ethnic groups to understand that their future role would be as subordinates (Melis Myrzakmatov, In Search of the Truth. The Osh Tragedy: Documents, Facts, Appeals and Declarations, Bishkek, Turar, 2011). Notably, the arrested lawmakers are radical nationalists too. At the rally on October 3, Zhaparov publicly stated that the Kumtor mine “belongs to the Jews” (K-News, October 3). Furthermore, during the parliamentary elections in 2010, Tashiyev said that the Kyrgyz should have more rights than other ethnic groups in the state (Ferghananews.com, September 16, 2010).
Due to the similar nationalist platforms as well as southern origins of Myrzakmatov and two of the arrested parliamentarians, one would have expected the Osh mayor to have backed the October 3 protest. After all, Tashiev and other Ata-Jurt leaders supported Myrzakmatov during the mayoral election in 2011 (Ferghananews.com, March 1, 2010). Yet, Myrzakmatov did not support his long-standing ally during the October events. Apparently, the mayor concluded that Kyrgyzstan’s current government is strong enough that a new revolution would not be successful at this time.
Ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan, on the other hand, consider the muted public reaction to the arrest of Zhaparov, Tashiyev and Mamitov to be a reflection of a decline in the Kyrgyz nationalist movement. Tashiyev is one of most notorious nationalists in Kyrgyzstan and so his arrest may actually mollify ethnic relations in the republic. “The weak [public] reaction to the arrest of the lawmakers shows that as a result of the parliamentary election in 2010, a balance between different regions [not ethnic groups] had been reached. Now, the regional elite solve their problems in the parliament,” Dr. Sergei Abashin, the head of the Central Asia Department of the Russian Institute of Ethnology, told Jamestown on October 15. According to the researcher, prior to 2010, the parliament was not a field of political struggle, and problems were being resolved in the streets. However, according to Abashin, this last attempt by parliamentarians to stir up street protests indicates that the regional balance created after 2010 may still not be entirely stable.