Nookat Incident Opens Fresh Wounds in Southern Kyrgyzstan

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 44

The contract killing on February 23 in Nookat city of the deputy head of a regional tax agency, Sagynbek Alimbaev, has highlighted continued problems between ethnic minorities and the ethnic majority in southern Kyrgyzstan, as well as the inefficient local law-enforcement structures.

On March 1, an angry crowd of mainly young ethnic Kyrgyz men gathered outside the local administration building, demanding that the authorities arrest Alimbayev’s killers. They set fire to the house of one of the suspects. To date, two ethnic Uzbeks from Fukat village were arrested for allegations of killing Alimbayev. They both confessed their complicity in the murder (, March 1). The murder suspects identified an ethnic Uzbek named Adyzhan as the mastermind of the murder. A Russian citizen, Adylzhan, is believed to be hiding in Uzbekistan. It is, however, highly likely that both suspects were forced to confess through torture, a practice widespread in the Kyrgyz law-enforcement structures.

The incident highlights that inter-ethnic tensions remain serious and any conflict involving ethnic majority and minority groups will likely generate mutual anger on both sides. It also shows how the population in southern Kyrgyzstan distrusts the law-enforcement structures, preferring to take justice into their own hands. If those responsible for burning down the property remain unpunished, this will send a strong signal about law-enforcement agencies’ inability to treat all ethnic groups equally. On the other hand, if the arsonists are arrested, law-enforcement structures will face pressure and condemnation from local Kyrgyz communities.

According to the Head of the National Security Service, Marat Imankulov, the alleged contract killer is hiding in Uzbekistan (, March 2). Imankulov attempted to offer reassurance that the incident was not caused by inter-ethnic hatred. “There is no ethnic problem here the reason is hostile relations between people. The crime was triggered by a specific person, it was a contract killing committed by a group of people. Property issues are the main cause of the crime,” Imankulov told journalists (, March 2).

Imankulov was quick to link the Nookat tensions to abstract forces seeking to destabilize southern Kyrgyzstan. The government also claimed that the police did not discover how the house was set on fire. According to unconfirmed reports generated by Twitter, however, more than one house was burned down on that day. Moreover, the police waited until the property was substantially damaged by fire before taking any action. The truth is likely to be somewhere between these two reports.

Adylazhan was found dead in his Lexus car. The fact that a public employee in Kyrgyzstan owned such a vehicle raises questions about his professional ethics, as to whether he, like the vast majority of other law-enforcement agents, received illicit income from bribes and the shadow economy. Interior Minister, Zarylbek Rysaliyev, said the situation in Nookat is currently stable (, March 2). The authorities have explained to the protestors that their demands to expedite the extradition of Adylzhan were unlawful. Some security officials have informally requested that local journalists abstain from fomenting tensions by publishing alarmist reports.

Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan’s leadership has been reluctant to address the issue of inter-ethnic tensions. When asked in private, government officials and members of parliament often express nationalist sentiments. Most, however, are unable to separate the concept of citizenship from ethnic identity, believing that the ethnic majority is responsible for Kyrgyzstan’s future and therefore must enjoy a special status. On February 28, President Roza Otunbayev signed a decree allowing a special working group to formulate a concept aimed at improving inter-ethnic relations in the country. In response some Kyrgyz NGO leaders argue that the government must focus on improving the work of local police and the courts before adopting such a concept (, March 1).

The case of an ethnic Uzbek journalist and human rights activist, Azimjon Askarov, is a poignant example of discrimination by Kyrgyz law-enforcement. Askarov is accused of instigating inter-ethnic hatred, he was arrested shortly after the June 2010 violence in Osh. Jamestown sources suggest that Askarov might spend up to five years in prison because of the Kyrgyz courts’ reluctance and inability to prosecute the real perpetrators of the violence.

According NGO reports, following the June 2010 conflict ethnic minorities are increasingly discriminated against in the labor market. These trends are especially pronounced at village level. None of the former interim government members has admitted responsibility for allowing the ethnic strife to unravel in 2010.